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Bring them home

21 November 2019, Action for Change

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.

These are some of the most vulnerable children in the world – if we don’t speak up for them, who will? 

Australia has already brought eight children back to Australia – after lobbying from Save the Children and media attention. But so far, the Government has failed to bring back the other Australian children and their mothers.
 
We don’t believe it is too dangerous to visit the camps. There have been multiple offers to Australia to help get the children to safety – including from the US Government. What is missing is the political will.

The situation for the children is deteriorating rapidly, and the time has come to move the children to safety before a death in the camps occurs.

The proper place for justice to be applied is Australia

All of the families have agreed that if returned to Australia they will voluntarily submit to strict ‘control orders’ and  cooperate with authorities – they just want  their children to be safe.

The Australian Government has run out of excuses and should immediately accept the offer from the US.

The offer by the US means that any risk to Australian officials in the Middle East is minimised. Likewise, the strict control orders to which the women have consented will mitigate any risk to Australians at home.

The Australian Government has run out of excuses and these children are running out of time. 

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