Compassion for children trapped in an ethical dilemma
The issue of the repatriation of Australian women and children stranded in Syrian camps is a complex one, which has generated strong feelings in the Australian community. However, for Save the Children the action that needs to be taken is clear.
We are guided by our founder Eglantyne Jebb, who started Save the Children 100 years ago specifically in response to a call to save the enemy’s children who were starving due to an allied blockade. To honour her legacy, our duty as an organisation is clear – we must advocate for the rights of the innocent children caught up in a conflict not of their making, and bring them home.
Here Joe Rafalowicz, Campaign Manager at Save the Children puts forward the case for the children’s return.
Australian children trapped in a hellscape
Back in April 2019, we were alerted us to some shocking news: there were Australians, including children, trapped in a camp in north east Syria. They were being held in a remote camp on the Syrian border, called Al-Hol, designed to hold around 10,000 refugees. More than 70,000 women and children, many with known or perceived links with ISIS, ended up in these camps.
Much later, we were able to establish that there were at least 60 Australians in the camp, most of them (44) children and a number of heavily pregnant young women. The majority of the Australian children trapped in Al Hol camp were under five.
The conditions in the camp are shocking. The children are suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and a lack of access to sanitation and healthcare. Like Syrian children, they’ve suffered acute deprivation, witnessed violence and bombardment living under ISIS control.
Not only that, but the camps are incredibly dangerous. One of the tents was burnt down during rioting - while two people were still inside. In the same area, a small child has fallen into a sewer and died.
While the women and children are doing their best to stay away from the extremists in the camp, talking to the media and being Australian has put a target on their backs. They live in fear of being burnt alive as ‘traitors’ by the hardliners who patrol the camps after dark.