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Fight not over in seeking urgent repatriation of Aussie children from Northeast Syria

Save the Children Australia will continue advocating for the immediate repatriation of Australian children and their mothers from desert camps after the Federal Court dismissed its appeal.
18 June 2024

Save the Children Australia remains committed to helping bring home a group of Australian kids trapped in Northeast Syria camps, despite a Federal Court decision today not to compel the Federal Government to immediately repatriate the vulnerable children.

The Federal Court dismissed the appeal, finding the Australian Government does not have control over the detention of the Australian women and children but found that:

  • The “evidence comfortably establishes” that the government had a plan in late 2022 to undertake further repatriations, following the repatriation of 13 children and their four mothers in October that year;
  • It was “amply proven” on the evidence that the Government has “a means to end the detention of the ... women and children”; and
  • If the Government had the political will to repatriate the group, the evidence shows it would be “a relatively straightforward exercise.”

Save the Children Australia, which launched the appeal as litigation guardian for 11 children and six women, said the judgement showed that the Australian Government still has the ability – as well as the moral responsibility – to repatriate the children and their mothers.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said that the child rights organisation respects the decision of the Federal Court and will now consider next steps in support of the group, who have been stuck in the camps for more than five years. 

“Our commitment to helping bring the remaining children back to Australia, where they belong, remains unshakeable regardless of today’s outcome,”  Mr Tinkler said. 

“These are innocent Australian kids who have experienced immense trauma and suffering but are left to languish in desert camps, where they are rapidly losing hope. I promised these children that we would advocate tirelessly to bring them home and we will continue working to make that a reality.
“What I find it difficult to comprehend is that the Australian Government could end their suffering right now by bringing them home and providing the chance for a real life, but our political leaders are choosing not to act. 

“Just last month, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Finland repatriated women and children from the camps, showing once again that repatriations are possible.

“Despite the ruling, we appeal to the Government to end this relentless limbo and finish what they started almost two years ago, by repatriating the remaining children and their mothers before it is too late.” 

The Albanese Government repatriated 13 children along with their four mothers in October 2022. Eight Australian children were repatriated by the Morrison Government in 2019.

About 11,000 foreign children and women remain in Roj and Al Hol camps, where the risks to children have only become greater due to increasing violence across the region. They also deserve the chance to safely return to their home countries.

Save the Children has been working in Syria since 2012 and provides protection and support services in Al Hol and Roj camps, including child-friendly spaces. Since 2019, the international child rights organisation has been calling for the urgent repatriation of foreign nationals trapped in Northeast Syria.


MEDIA CONTACT: Holly Robertson on +61 414 546 656 or Mala Darmadi on +61 425 562 113 or

Notes to Editors:

  • Save the Children Australia’s appeal was on several grounds, including a challenge to the earlier finding by Justice Moshinsky that there was no agreement or understanding in place to repatriate the remaining women and children, and to the finding that the Australian Government does not have control over their detention. Save the Children Australia argued that the appeal court should therefore issue a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus 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. Save the Children Australia acted as the litigation guardian on the basis that children and their mothers are unable to properly instruct from Northeast Syria. 
  • The lawyers working on this case for the women and children acted pro bono. Legal advice was 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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