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Landmark legal case to repatriate Australian children from NE Syria begins in Federal Court today

Australian Government must commit to bring home the group of children and their mothers, who have been trapped in North East Syria desert camps since 2019.
26 September 2023

A group of 20 Australian children and 11 women seeking to compel the Government to repatriate them from North East Syria take their case to the Federal Court today with the support of Save the Children Australia.

Save the Children Australia has been calling for the urgent repatriation of innocent Australian children trapped in North East Syrian camps since the collapse of Islamic State (ISIS) in March 2019.

Since then, this group of Australian children has been in grave danger, lacking many of the basic necessities – such as adequate healthcare, education and nutrition – that children on home soil can access.

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. 

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the families had waited more than four years to be repatriated, before turning to the legal system as a last resort.

“Save the Children Australia is supporting these innocent Australian children and turning to the courts because they have been abandoned by their own government.

“Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian Government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety,”  he said.

“Advocacy efforts by the families and NGOs like Save the Children Australia and many others have been exhaustive and relentless. Legal action was never the preferred approach for anyone, however the families have been left with no other recourse.

“We desperately hope these children and their mothers will be imminently repatriated home to safety. It is unfathomable that the Australian Government has abandoned its citizens. 

“The Government cannot allow these innocent children to suffer further – they must do what is legally and morally right, before it’s too late.”


MEDIA CONTACT: Holly Robertson on 0414546656, Joshua Mcdonald on 0478010972 or


  • 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 to manage the legal affairs of a party to a proceeding in circumstances where they are unable to act for capacity reasons. In this case, Save the Children Australia is the litigation guardian on the basis that children and their mothers are unable to properly instruct in the matter due to their physical location in Northeast Syria.

  • 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.

  • In October 2022, the Australian Government repatriated 13 children and four women, clearly demonstrating its ability to carry out repatriations from these camps. This followed the repatriation of eight children by the previous Government in 2019. Since this time, the government has refused to commit to repatriating the remaining women and children.

  • Save the Children Australia CEO Mat 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 distress and trauma, severe dental decay, stunting, and multiple other health conditions.

  • In 2023 alone, about a dozen other countries have repatriated some of their nationals from the camps, including Barbados, Canada, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan and the United States.

  • While Save the Children has welcomed the increased efforts of some countries to repatriate their nationals, the child rights agency continues to urge the countries of origin to do everything they can to repatriate the more than 10,000 foreign children and women who remain in Northeast Syria.

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