Despite official correspondence claiming a “arrangement to repatriate further groups of women and children,” the Australian government has told the federal court that there is “no arrangement” to bring Australian women and children home from detention centers in Syria.
11 Australian women and their children are currently being imprisoned in detention facilities in the north-eastern region of Syria. Save the Children Australia is serving as the legal guardian for these families.
Save the Children has argued in front of the court that Australia has de facto control of the incarceration of the Australians. As evidence, they have pointed to Australia’s history of successfully repatriating other women and children from Syrian camps, as well as the cooperation of authorities in Syria to the Australians being returned.
The government claims that it does not have any arrangement over the detention of the Australians, and that their incarceration is the domain of the Syrian authorities who physically detain them. However, the Syrian authorities have denied this allegation.
The Australians are the wives, widows, and children of Islamic State combatants who were either killed or imprisoned. The majority of the Australians have been incarcerated in the filthy Roj detention camp in north-east Syria for the past four years. Although no one has been charged with a crime thus yet, it is possible that some of the women will be charged once they are back in Australia.
A few of the children have never experienced life outside of the camp because they were born there themselves. According to the Red Cross, the conditions are “dire,” the prevalence of disease and malnutrition is high, and the state of the security situation is “extremely volatile.”
Peter Morrissey SC, who was representing Save the Children in court on Tuesday morning, stated that the circumstances facing the Australians are “extremely precarious.”
According to him, the conditions in which the women and children were being detained were “piteous and appalling… their health, safety, and dignity are seriously compromised.”
The first day of the hearing before Justice Mark Moshinsky in the federal court in Melbourne heard from officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) and a naval rear admiral about Australia’s ongoing role in Syria as part of a coalition allied against Islamic State, as well as its control, or influence, over the ongoing detention of Australians. The coalition is fighting Islamic State.
A file note that was prepared by Marc Innes-Brown, an Australian diplomat who, according to what the court heard, held the function of “special envoy” responsible with coordinating over repatriations with the administration in control of north-east Syria known as Autonomous Administration of North & East Syria (AANES), was presented as evidence. The note was cited as evidence.
A fortnight after the final repatriation of Australians from Roj camp, Innes-Brown wrote in the letter he submitted to top Dfat officials in October of the previous year that he had discussed with AANES foreign relations officers “the plan to repatriate further groups of women and children.” This discussion took place in the note that Innes-Brown sent to senior Dfat officials.
Innes-Brown has not been asked to testify in relation to this particular legal matter.
The women and children from Australia who are being imprisoned in Roj camp in north Syria are, according to submissions made by the commonwealth, free agents who traveled to Syria of their own free will.
There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they were forced by the Commonwealth (of Australia) to travel to Syria. Despite warnings from the Australian government not to travel there, they went ahead and did so anyway.
According to the government’s comments, “there is no dispute that the AANES is detaining the women and children in its own right and not as the agent of the Commonwealth.” This is one of the arguments.
It was stated there was no evidence that Australia had handed over the women and children to the AANES, nor did it have custody of them in the first place.
The administration has maintained that “there is no existing arrangement” for the release and repatriation of the Australian citizens to their home country. The government, on the other hand, is in agreement that the AANES “is likely to say ‘yes'” to its request to release the Australians into its custody if it were to make such a request.
Two separate missions to retrieve Australian citizens from refugee camps in northeastern Syria have been carried out. In 2019, eight children who had been orphaned were brought back to New South Wales from the camps. One of these children was a pregnant adolescent.
In October of 2017, four mothers and 13 children were also returned to the state of New South Wales.