#childsafety | Why Aussie children with mothers are more likely to be left in Syria – Politics


October 17, 2019 00:04:33

The children whose mothers have managed to survive the Syrian conflict are being considered a lower priority — or simply a more difficult case — for bringing back to Australia than orphans.

Key points:

  • Most countries have prioritised orphaned children for repatriation from Syria
  • Orphans are considered to be easier because governments can take them into care or leave them with family networks
  • More than 40 Australian children are currently in a Syrian prison camp close to military threats

That fact has become apparent in international responses to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as well as Australia’s own efforts.

More than 40 Australian children remain in the Syrian prison camp of al-Hawl, in the care of around 20 women with links to terror group Islamic State.

Their presence follows the retreat and fall of the terror movement in the region earlier this year.

The Federal Government has so far brought back eight children from Syria. They are mostly orphans, some with family in Australia.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said repatriation efforts were “very, very complex”.

“I have some knowledge that went into the efforts of returning a number of orphaned children to Australia, and it is very dangerous, it is very complex, it’s very, very time consuming,” she said last week.

Some of the children were born in Syria and their links to Australia are difficult to verify. For others, passports may have been lost.

But whatever the circumstances, many countries have prioritised orphans for extraction while other children remain in camps.

And the window might be closing.

Why it’s complicated

Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month said “we have already facilitated some returns, particularly of young children, orphans who are in many respects victims of this terrible process”.

Rodger Shanahan, research fellow at The Lowy Institute, said “on every level” orphans tend to be far less complex legally and “much more straightforward in a policy sense”.

“In cases where the maternity and paternity is known, so their citizenship is known, their parents have been killed while in Syria, so they don’t have anybody to look after them,” he said.

“It’s much easier for governments to bring orphans back to their own country, where they can either become wards of the state or there’s a clear family support network.”

He said determining maternity and paternity creates complexity. He said children born to Syrian fathers were automatically Syrian by local law.

“The problem from a policy perspective is each family’s case is complex and has to be dealt with individually, because often the families have complex maternity and paternity backgrounds given the numbers of years they’ve been members of Islamic State,” he said.

What the world is doing

Analysis of reported repatriations from 2019 shows Australia’s response is broadly consistent with key allies and developed countries.

While some central Asian nations have brought home hundreds of women and children, the response from other countries has been more restrained.

Reports of returned children

Children Orphans
Nigeria – September 3 All
Austria – August 2 All
Germany – August 4 3
Australia – June 8 Most
Belgium – June 6 All
Denmark – June 1 None
France – June 12 All
Kazakhstan – June 171 “Significant number”
Netherlands – June 2 All
Norway – June 5 All
Sweden – June 7 All
US – June 6 Unknown
Kazakhstan – May 156 18
Uzbekistan – May 90 Unknown
Kosovo – April 74 9
France – March 5 All
Kazakhstan – January 30 Unknown

Table covers reports in 2019 and is accurate as of October 16. Have we missed a report? Email jack.snape@abc.net.au and the table will be updated.

The national security element

Some fear the potential threat to national security in bringing back mothers alongside their children.

Labor Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally on Sunday said she had received departmental advice that “some of them do retain a determination to commit terrorist acts”.

“However, the Department also advises me that, in their view, some of the women are genuine victims, that is they were taken to Syria either deceived or taken against their will,” she said.

Kamalle Dabboussy, father of an Australian woman still in Syria, said in the cases with which he was familiar, there were stories of coercion, grooming, trickery or “some naivete”.

“Regardless of what those concerns may be, there are numerous instruments available to monitor and support those families upon their return,” he said.

Why time is running out

Humanitarian staff are being withdrawn from the region as Turkish forces move in, intent on establishing a “safe zone” along its border to resettle refugees.

There is speculation the al-Hawl camp might be targeted for attack.

The camp, close to the Iraqi border, is home to tens of thousands. Its residents include foreigners, women, children and men captured in the final assaults on the Islamic State group.

Despite the escalating tensions, Mat Tinkler, director of policy for humanitarian group Save the Children, on Tuesday said “the window for repatriation still exists”.

“Our advice is Kurdish administration and officials will facilitate the transfer of Australian nationals to the border to Iraq, where they can be repatriated by the Australian Government,” he said.

He added that work can be done in the “relative stability” of Erbil or Duhok in northern Iraq, including negotiations or application of Australian law.

Mr Shanahan said the complexity of each family’s case had protracted efforts.

“Advocates and media organisations have said ‘well we can get there, why can’t government officials get there?’,” he said.

“The safety issue up until now has really been a secondary issue — advocates and media organisations don’t have to test maternity and paternity of children and deal with complexities of the policy.”

Testing requires the use of DNA kits and demands those involved are forthcoming about the identity of a child’s parents.

“While the safety issue might have been secondary previously, given what’s happening at the moment … it’s probably the primary concern at the moment and it’s only going to get more difficult in the future,” he said.

Publicly, the Government remains focused on ensuring Australian officials are not put at risk.

Two weeks ago, even before Turkey ramped up its military campaign, the Prime Minister argued it was “way too dangerous” to send in Australian officials.

“We work with our humanitarian partners where we have been able to facilitate, particularly young children who have been caught up in all this,” Mr Morrison said.

“But let’s not assume that the individuals, particularly obviously the adults who were involved here don’t present any potential threat to Australia.

“That would be a big mistake to make.”







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