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Australian children and their mothers file Federal Court case to be repatriated from North East Syria

The Australian citizens today launch legal action to return home after being stranded in camps in North East Syria for more than four years.
05 June 2023

A group of 17 Australian children and nine women trapped in camps in North East Syria will today file a legal case in the Federal Court of Australia seeking to be repatriated.

The children are living in one of the hardest places in the world to be a child. In recent years, they’ve been exposed to violence, received limited education, been subject to traumatic experiences, and have deteriorating mental and physical health. They are being punished for their parents’ alleged actions and deprived of their basic rights by their own government.

Save the Children Australia, acting as litigation guardian in the case, is formally requesting the Australian Government to stand by its moral and legal obligation to repatriate its citizens immediately.

Since 2019, the international child rights organisation has been calling for the urgent repatriation of innocent Australian children trapped in Syria. As each day of government inaction has passed, their situation grows more desperate.

This legal action is a last resort, but it is necessary.

In October 2022, the Australian Government repatriated 13 children and four women, demonstrating clearly its ability to bring home its citizens from these camps. This followed the repatriation of eight children in 2019.

While those were commendable steps, the subsequent inaction since has left the women and children with no choice but to pursue litigation.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the organisation was standing side by side with the women and children who are bringing this case, but cannot file it themselves because they are stranded in the camps. 

“After spending four years living in hard conditions, this legal case was not the first choice of action by these Australian citizens in Syria. This is a regretful but resolute action, borne of fear, suffering, frustration, and despair,” he said.

“We have worked at length to engage with the Australian Government on this issue, to prevent it from ever coming to court, but we’re now out of other options. Every day these Australian children are left in Syria is another day their safety and wellbeing are at risk.

“The repatriations last October raised the remaining children’s hopes that they too would soon be out of harm’s way. Instead, they feel they have been abandoned by their country and are losing hope for the future.

“These are innocent children, who are being punished for the alleged actions of their parents. As Australian citizens, they deserve the same opportunities as every other Australian child. They simply want to come home, attend school and most of all, feel safe.”


Mr Tinkler visited Roj camp in June 2022, where he met with Australian families and saw the dire conditions with his own eyes. He observed some Australian children with untreated shrapnel wounds who live with crippling, unmedicated pain every day. He met others suffering acute emotional distress, severe dental decay, stunting, and multiple other health conditions.

“The Albanese Government is morally and legally obligated to bring home these Australian citizens, and there are no practical or security barriers to prevent them from doing so – as demonstrated last year when they repatriated 13 children and four women. It is simply the political will that is lacking.”

Many other countries, including the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, have already safely repatriated dozens of children and their mothers from the camps.

“Australia’s unwillingness to bring the remaining children home is a source of international shame. We urge the government to work with us to create a positive legacy for children and bring our kids home,” Mr Tinkler said.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: Holly Robertson on 0414546656 or Joshua McDonald on 0478010972 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au.

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The legal action is a writ of habeas corpus. This is one of the most fundamental rights at law that protects an individual right to liberty. 

  • A litigation guardian is appointed when a litigant does not have the capacity to conduct their own litigation. In broad terms, a litigation guardian manages the legal affairs of a party to a proceeding in circumstances where they are unable to act for capacity reasons. In this case, we are the litigation guardian on the basis that children and their mothers are unable to properly instruct in the matter due to physical

  • The lawyers working on this case for the women and children are acting pro bono. Legal advice is provided by Peter Morrissey SC, Emrys Nekvapil SC, Birchgrove Legal and Corrs Chambers Westgarth, with the support of junior barristers in Australia and London, including Doughty Street Chambers.

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