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Legal appeal to repatriate Australian children from Northeast Syria begins in Federal Court

Save the Children Australia is acting as litigation guardian for a group of Australian children and their mothers fighting to come home after five years in desert camps.
08 May 2024

The full bench of the Federal Court in Melbourne will today hear an appeal from Save the Children Australia seeking to compel the Federal Government to urgently repatriate a group of Australian children and their mothers from Northeast Syria.

The child rights organisation is acting as a litigation guardian on behalf of 11 Australian children and their six mothers, with the appeal to be heard over two days, from 8-9 May. 

The initial landmark legal case was heard by the Federal Court of Australia in September 2023, with the Hon Justice Mark Moshinsky delivering his judgement on 3 November 2023. 

Justice Moshinsky ruled that Australia does not have control of the detention of the women and children and therefore that a writ of habeas corpus – which would have required the Federal Government to repatriate the group – should not be issued.

In October 2022, the Australian Government repatriated 13 children and four women, clearly demonstrating its ability to carry out repatriations from the camps. This followed the repatriation of eight children by the previous Government in 2019. 

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said time was running out with every day the government delayed repatriating the remaining Australians from the camps.

“These innocent Australian children have spent the past five years in desert camps with limited access to healthcare and education, and their situation grows more and more desperate every day they remain there, especially with the current instability in the Middle East,” Mr Tinkler said.

“They are among more than 6,000 foreign children still stuck in the camps, and Australia must play its part in addressing this issue by repatriating its citizens, as scores of other likeminded nations have done.”

“These are Australian citizens and we know the Federal Government has the ability to bring these children and their mothers home in a controlled manner, where they can be safely reintegrated into the community, as demonstrated by previous rounds of repatriations. It should not have to take legal action, supported by a child rights charity, to force the hand of the Government to adhere to its obligations.”

Save the Children Australia has been calling for the urgent repatriation of innocent Australian children trapped in Northeast Syria camps since March 2019.


MEDIA CONTACT: Holly Robertson on 0414 546 656 or Mala Darmadi on 0425 562 113 or 


•    Save the Children Australia’s appeal is on several grounds, including a challenge to the 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 will argue 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 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.

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