Aussie ISIS brides to stay in Syria

An application to bring Australian women and children stuck in a Syrian refugee camp home has been rejected. Picture: Save the Children Australia
An application to bring Australian women and children stuck in a Syrian refugee camp home has been rejected. Picture: Save the Children Australia

A legal battle to bring a group of Australian women and their children stuck in a refugee camp in Syria back home to Australia has been rejected by the Federal Court.

A group of 20 Australian children and 11 women had been seeking to compel the federal government to repatriate them from North East Syria.

On Friday, Justice Mark Moshinsky rejected the application brought by non-profit group Save the Children Australia, which acted as litigation guardian in the case, in the Federal Court.

The 11 Australian women and 20 children have lost their case in the Federal Court. Picture: Save the Children Australia
The 11 Australian women and 20 children have lost their case in the Federal Court. Picture: Save the Children Australia

The application was made to formally request the Australian government to uphold its moral and legal obligation to repatriate its citizens.

The Australian women, some of whom were children at the time, had travelled to Syria to marry ISIS fighters before the self-described caliphate collapsed in 2019.

The women and their children have remained in a detention camp controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) since then.

Thirty-four women and children with Australian citizenship, or eligibility for citizenship, remain in the Al-Roj camp in Northeast Syria, with 31 joining the lawsuit.

Save the Children Australia Peter Morrissey SC had argued the government had a moral obligation to return the group who had endured “appalling conditions” for the past four years.

Australian women and their children remain in the North East Syrian refugee camp. Picture: Save the Children Australia
Australian women and their children remain in the North East Syrian refugee camp. Picture: Save the Children Australia

During the court proceedings, the Australian government had argued AANES held “complete and unfettered discretion” over the detainees and therefore it couldn’t be compelled to repatriate them.

“Merely being able to ask for a person’s release, and even having high hopes that would be successful, would never be enough,” counsel for the Commonwealth, Craig Lenehan SC, had previously told the court in September

“Our fundamental point is the applicant fails to prove its case.”

Mr Lenehan had told the court in September that there was never an “arrangement or agreement” made covering all the women and children despite a decision being made by political leaders to bring back the group in October.

Justice Moshinsky said in his ruling on Friday that the government did not have “any such requirement” to make a decision about repatriation.

Outside court, Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler said the organisation would consider its options in appealing the decision.

“This is an extremely disappointing outcome, especially for the innocent Australian children who have already spent more than four years stranded in camps in Northeast Syria, wishing only for their government to bring them home to safety,” he said.

“We respect the court’s decision but remain deeply concerned that these children will continue to be exposed to the risk of increasing violence and limited services such as adequate healthcare.

“This will only add to the growing feeling these children have of being deserted by the Australian government. As each week, month and year in limbo passes, they are increasingly losing hope for the future.”

More than 30 Australians remain in refugee camps in Syria. Picture: Save the Children Australia
More than 30 Australians remain in refugee camps in Syria. Picture: Save the Children Australia

Mr Tinkler said the government still had a responsibility to help its citizens.

“Despite the outcome of this case, the government has the power to end this misery and pain for these children,” he said.

“Australia must do the right thing and bring them home so that they can experience the opportunities and protections every Australian should receive.

“More than 1500 foreign nationals have been repatriated from the camps since 2019, and many other countries didn’t need a court to tell them to do the right thing and repatriate their citizens – neither should Australia.

“We will assess the judgment before making a final decision, but an appeal is absolutely being considered. We will continue doing everything we can to get these innocent children home, where they belong.

“Save the Children won’t give up this fight. Someone has to stand in the corner of these innocent Australian children.”

The reasons for the Federal Court decision will be kept confidential for seven days to allow the parties time to make further applications to the court, including costs.

Save the Children had been seeking a writ of habeas corpus – which would require the Commonwealth to protect the women and children against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment in the camps.