Australia has repatriated a group of women and children who were stranded in refugee camps in northeast Syria after the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group lost control of the region in 2019 .
In a statement on Saturday, Australian Home Secretary Clare O’Neil said the group, made up of four Australian women and their 13 children, had arrived in New South Wales.
“The focus has been on the safety and security of all Australians as well as the safety of those involved in the operation,” she said. “The government has carefully considered the range of safety, community and welfare factors in making the decision to repatriate.”
Earlier this month, Canberra said it hoped to rescue from refugee camps in Syria dozens of Australian women and children who belonged to the families of dead or imprisoned IS fighters.
The four women are said to have traveled from Australia to the Middle East to marry Islamic State fighters.
O’Neil added that Australian law enforcement would “continue to engage” and investigate the other members of the group.
“Allegations of illegal activity will continue to be investigated,” she said.
“Any violations identified may result in enforcement action being taken.”
Rights groups have welcomed the repatriations.
Mat Tinkler, CEO of Save the Children Australia, said the Australian government had “done the right and right thing”.
“They gave these children hope for their future and placed their faith in the strength of Australia’s national security, justice and resettlement systems to support their safe integration into Australian society,” Tinkler said.
He added that there were still more than 30 Australian children who were stuck in camps in Syria. “We won’t rest until all of Australia’s children are brought home,” he said.
“We urge the government to repatriate them as quickly as possible.”
Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said other Australians still being held in dire conditions without charge or trial in northeast Syria should also be brought home.
“Australia can play a leading role in the fight against terrorism through these orderly repatriations of its nationals – primarily children who never chose to live under ISIS,” McNeill said.
“They can prosecute adults if warranted.”