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Why should we care about Australian children trapped in Syria?

12 April 2019, Emergencies

Children of Australian foreign fighters must be brought home now

Should we rescue children whose parents turned their back on our country to join ISIS? It’s a debate that is currently dividing opinion – but to us, the answer is clear. 

What is the situation?

The war in Syria is not over and since an offensive against ISIS in March, humanitarian needs have dramatically increased. Tens of thousands of women and children have arrived in camps that were not prepared for the influx. 

Among them, nearly 7,000 children of foreign nationalities are trapped in camps in the northeast of the country. It’s estimated that 6,407 are below the age of 12 and 3,397 are below the age of 5.

These children are from more than 30 different counties, including Australia. Their parents were associated with ISIS in some way – they may have joined ISIS voluntarily or by force, or they may have been groomed and recruited as children themselves.

Some of the children would have left Australia with their parents, while others were born in Syria. But most importantly, these children are in Syria through no fault of their own.

Why is it important these children come back to Australia?

All children who have lived under ISIS control have experienced horrific events – violence, acute depravation and bombardment. Australia has the power to repatriate and rehabilitate these children, to support their recovery and reintegration into society.

They have all had their schooling and ability to play and spend time with other children disrupted. And nearly all have lost loved ones. 

No one is defending the despicable actions of their parents, who must face justice – but no child should suffer because of the decisions of adults. 

Not even the children of those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. 

What conditions are these children living in at the moment? 

These children and their families are currently in areas with active conflict and high numbers of displaced civilians. It is not a safe environment for children. 

Living conditions in the camps are dire. In Al Hol camp, children are battling hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration and malnutrition. Many are suffering distress and trauma, diarrhoea and tuberculosis, while reports of typhoid are also starting to emerge. 

Make no mistake, by leaving Australian kids in Syria, we are condemning them to more suffering.

Why can’t they stay in Syria?

Syria’s infrastructure, and services, including its legal system, have been debilitated by eight years of one of the Middle East’s bloodiest conflicts.

In many cases, they have no official documentation, and their births have not been registered.

These children need our help - it’s crucial they feel supported, not abandoned, by their country.

If their parents chose to join ISIS, why should we care? 

Children are not responsible for their parents’ actions and should not be made to pay for them by being deprived of their basic rights. All children have the right to be safe, to learn and to be protected. 

This is a defining moment for who we are as Australians because in fighting against ISIS, we fought for a world that values freedom, dignity and compassion. We must stay true to those values.  

Ours is a society which stands for the rule of law and defends the rights of every individual, no matter how young.

Children who has lived through this nightmare will need specialised support and care to overcome these horrific experiences, but we are lucky enough to live in a country that has the services and resources to do this effectively.

Children of foreign fighters must be brought home. 

It’s time to stop the war on children. 

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