A Federal Court decision not to compel the Albanese Government to repatriate 20 Australian children and 11 women from Northeast Syrian camps is deeply disappointing, Save the Children Australia said today.
The child rights organisation, which acted as litigation guardian in the case, will continue to advocate for the immediate repatriation of the Australian children and their mothers.
Justice Moshinsky ruled that Australia does not control their detention so a writ of habeas corpus – which would have compelled Federal Government to repatriate the women and children – should not be issued.
While Save the Children Australia respects the court’s decision, the outcome means the children will continue to languish in Northeast Syrian camps, where they have faced unnecessary risks every day since 2019.
The collapse of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the fall of Baghouz in March 2019 led to tens of thousands of women and children arriving at Al Hol and Roj camps in Northeast Syria, including thousands of foreign nationals.
Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the organisation would work with its legal team to explore an appeal.
“This is an extremely disappointing outcome, especially for the innocent Australian children who have already spent more than four years stranded in camps in Northeast Syria, wishing only for their Government to bring them home to safety,” he said.
“We respect the court's decision but remain deeply concerned that these children will continue to be exposed to the risk of increasing violence and limited services such as adequate healthcare.
“This will only add to the growing feeling these children have of being deserted by the Australian Government. As each week, month and year in limbo passes, they are increasingly losing hope for the future.
“Despite the outcome of this case, the Government has the power to end this misery and pain for these children. Australia must do the right thing and bring them home so that they can experience the opportunities and protections every Australian should receive.
“More than 1,500 foreign nationals have been repatriated from the camps since 2019, and many other countries didn’t need a court to tell them to do the right thing and repatriate their citizens - neither should Australia.
“We will assess the judgment before making a final decision, but an appeal is absolutely being considered. We will continue doing everything we can to get these innocent children home, where they belong.
“Save the Children won’t give up this fight. Someone has to stand in the corner of these innocent Australian children.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
- The legal action was 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, 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.
- 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.