30 October 2022

Sunday, 30 October 2022: International aid, human rights, and faith-based community organisations welcome news that the Australian government has repatriated 17 Australians from northeast Syria.

Save the Children Australia, the Australian Council for International Development, UNICEF Australia, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Australian National Imams Council, Islamic Relief Australia, Islamic Council of Victoria, Plan International Australia, and the Human Rights Law Centre, said the safe arrival of 13 children and four mothers in Sydney is an immense relief for their families and communities. We commend the Australian Government for upholding its moral and international legal obligations to bring these children and their mothers home.

However, there are still over 30 Australian children stuck in camps in North-East Syria. We urge the government to repatriate these children and their mothers as quickly as possible. We will not rest until every Australian child is brought home.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said: 

“We welcome the news that these children have arrived safely home and can start to live their lives as all children deserve to, in peace and safety with access to education, healthcare and the support systems they need to recover and thrive. 

“We urge the Australian government to not delay further repatriations of the Australian children who are still languishing in dire conditions in the camps, which offer no safe place for children”, 

“Save the Children stands ready to support these children in their recovery in any way we can,” Mr Tinkler said. 

Chief Executive of the Australian Council for International Development, Marc Purcell said: 

“It is fantastic these children have been brought back home. We should never be in a situation where Australian children are punished for the decisions of their parents and denied access to Australia. It is a good act that the Government has repatriated the children and mothers. The priority is to support them to adjust back into normal life after all the trauma they have experienced.” 

UNICEF Australia CEO Tony Stuart said:

"I am pleased that the process for repatriation has resumed. It is important the children receive the support they will need and that those remaining in northeast Syria are returned home as soon as is possible. 

"We congratulate the Government for taking this step. Minister O'Neill deserves praise for overseeing and authorising the delicate operation of secure passage of these children to Australia. We have been pleased with the speed and professionalism of the Minister and her 

agencies in this process. The last cohort of children were returned to Australia by then- Minister Peter Dutton, we are pleased this work has been resumed.” 

Amnesty International Australia Refugee Rights Advisor, Dr Graham Thom, said: 

“Amnesty commends the government for bringing these young women and children back to Australia where they can get the care they desperately need“These Australian children and their mothers have been in truly horrendous conditions and suffering terribly, having been separated from their families in Australia for years." Anyone accused of any crime can face the judicial system in Australia in accordance with all of our rights to a fair trial. Australian authorities have substantial experience in dealing with these complex re-assimilation efforts, and we are confident they will be handled successfully and sensitively.”

Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said:

“We welcome the news that the Federal Government has begun repatriating Australian children and their mothers from the horrors of the Syrian detention camps. By acting in accordance with its international obligations, the Government is also acting in the best interests of the children. “We now call on the Government to provide these children and mothers with the high quality, accessible and integrated support services they require, for as long as needed, in line with international best practice. These children need to finally resume their childhoods. “Recognising that many of the mothers were coerced or trafficked from Australia and forcibly married in Syria, we also call on the Government to provide them with specialised, survivor-centred support on their return.”

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) president Dr Rateb Jneid expressed:

“Full admiration of the Albanese government for the courage, decency and humanity shown by repatriating these Australian women and children.”

“I convey my full admiration of the Albanese government for the courage, decency and humanity shown by repatriating these Australian women and children. At AFIC, we stand ready to offer our support to help them settle well into Australian society and appeal that we leave no Australian woman or child behind at these harrowing camps.” Said AFIC president Dr Rateb Jneid

Imam Shadi Alsuleiman President, The Australian National Imams Council said:

“The Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and the Muslim community welcome the repatriation of Australian women and children from North-East Syria. This is a good and positive step by the Albanese Government and a new opportunity for the Australian women and children to come back to their home and country and start a new life, a new life that they can contribute positively to their community and their country”

Sophie McNeill, Australia Researcher, Human Rights Watch said: 

“We commend the Albanese government for promptly taking this long overdue step. A number of countries have successfully reintegrated children from these camps and Human Rights Watch is confident that the Australian authorities can manage this well. Rehabilitation for all returnees is a priority. 

“The former government only repatriated eight nationals, all orphans, in 2019. We ask that the Australian authorities bring home the rest of its citizens held in northeast Syria as soon as possible, so they don’t endure another harsh winter unlawfully detained in terrible conditions. Once home, adults who committed offenses can be prosecuted if appropriate.” 

Samir Bennegadi, CEO of Islamic Relief said:

“We are delighted to see the current government fulfil its moral and legal obligations towards Australian citizens, and pray the remaining children will not endure the upcoming freezing cold winter away from home.” 

Adel Salman, President Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) said: 

“The commencement of the repatriation of Australian women and children held for years in horrible and unsafe conditions in northern Syrian camps is very welcome news. We urge the Australian government to complete the repatriation of the remaining Australians as soon as humanly possible. With winter closing in and the ongoing risk to these vulnerable people, one day more than necessary is one day too many.” 

The repatriation of Australians comes as nations including Germany, France and the United Kingdom recently brought home citizens from Roj and Al Hol camps. Eight Australian children were also repatriated by the Morrison Government in 2019. 

A range of non-government organisations stand ready to work with government agencies and the families of the children and women to support their repatriation and reintegration into the Australian community.