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Lives of Australian children trapped in Syria in peril unless government acts

Save the Children urges the Australian Government to accept offer from Kurdish and US authorities to repatriate Australian children and their mothers.
20 October 2021

Shocking new details exposed by the ABC’s 730 program show that the lives of over 40 Australian children and their mothers trapped in camps in North East Syria are at serious risk unless the Australian Government acts urgently.
 
It has been revealed that the Australian Government has had no communication with the Kurdish authorities since 2019 about the repatriations of its citizens, despite suggesting in a letter to the United Nations that there was “regular engagement”.
 
For more than two years, Save the Children and other organisations have repeatedly provided detailed accounts of the circumstances of the Australians in the camp, including the untreated injuries and illnesses they’re suffering.
 
Save the Children Deputy CEO and Director of International Programs, Mat Tinkler said the repatriation of 9 Swedish nationals last month, 48 women and children by Danish and German governments earlier this month and the repatriation of 3 British children just this week demonstrates that it is entirely possible for the Australian women and children to be rescued.
 
“Clearly the Australian Government is not trying hard enough to protect these children, who are Australian citizens. The question is, after the latest revelations, are they trying at all?”
 
“These children don’t have time for politics, they need their government to do what’s right and to do what they have an obligation to do for their citizens as soon as humanly possible.”

 
“If they wait any longer, we fear an Australian child will die,” said Mr Tinkler.
 
In a letter to the United Nations in August 2021, the Australian Government’s representative suggested that the Kurdish authorities we only repatriating unaccompanied minors. A suggestion completely contradicted by recent repatriations to Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Iraq, Albania and Finland.
 
Letter to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 23 August: The Australian Government understands that local authorities administering the camps are not permitting repatriation of any other category of individuals at this time.
 
Australian officials monitor conditions in the camp through regular engagement with Kurdish officials and humanitarian partners operating in northeast Syria.
 
Dr Abdul Karim Omar, co-Chair of the Foreign Relations Commission for the Kurdish Administration indicated in his interview with 730 that there had been no communication with the Australian Government about the repatriation of Australian citizens.

Dr Abdul Karim Omar, Kurdish Autonomous Administration (translated): There is currently no dialogue between us in relation to any other handovers or in relation to funding support to be provided by the Australian Government for the costs of looking after ISIS fighters and their families.

The Australian mothers and their children, most under 6 years of age, are in al Roj camp located roughly 30 kilometres from the Iraq border.
 
Conditions in the camps are dire, with limited access to health services, nutritious food, or safe drinking water.
 
“This is no place for children,” said Mr Tinkler.
 
“Beyond the threat to their safety and security, many children are suffering from untreated physical and mental health issues.”
 
“Some children entered the camps with wounds that have not received medical attention, others have suffered injuries or illness in the camps and not recovered.” 
 
“They’ve witnessed unthinkable violence in their young lives; they are traumatised and need support.”

 
“Irrespective of what their parents may have done, these children are innocent. They didn’t ask for any of this, and they deserve our care.”
 
From January till mid-August, 163 people died in Al Hol, 62 of them children. Of those who died, 79 were murdered.  
 
There is only one healthcare facility in al Roj to treat around 2,500 camp residents with limited supplies and is only able to provide basic care.
 
COVID-19 has exacerbated an already bad situation, as many of the Australians suffer from underlying health issues, and do not have the means to effectively isolate in overcrowded camps.  
 
Read more in Save the Children’s recent report: When am I going to start to live?
 
ENDS
 
MEDIA CONTACT: Kimberley Gardiner on 0437 435 777 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au

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