Australia has repatriated a group of women and children who were left stranded in refugee camps in northeastern Syria after the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group lost control of the area in 2019.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil said that the group, made up of four Australian women and their 13 children, had arrived in New South Wales.
“The focus has been the safety and security of all Australians as well as the safety of those involved in the operation,” she said. “The government has carefully considered the range of security, community and welfare factors in making the decision to repatriate.”
Earlier this month Canberra said it hoped to rescue from refugee camps in Syria dozens of Australian women and children who belonged to the families of dead or jailed ISIS fighters.
The four women had allegedly traveled from Australia to the Middle East to marry ISIS fighters.
O’Neil added that Australian law enforcement agencies would “continue to engage with” and investigate other members of the group.
“Allegations of unlawful activity will continue to be investigated,” she said.
“Any identified offenses may lead to law enforcement action being taken.”
Rights groups welcomed the repatriations.
Mat Tinkler, CEO at Save the Children Australia, said that the Australian government had “done the right and just thing.”
“They have given these children hope for their futures and placed their trust in the robustness of Australia’s national security, judicial and resettlement systems to support their safe integration into Australian society,” Tinkler said.
He added that there were still more than 30 Australian children who were stuck in camps in Syria. “We will not rest until every Australian child is brought home,” he said.
“We urge the government to repatriate them as quickly as possible.”
Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that other Australians still held in dire conditions without charge or trial in northeastern Syria should be brought home too.
“Australia can play a leadership role on counter terrorism through these orderly repatriations of its nationals – mostly children who never chose to live under ISIS,” McNeill said.
“They can prosecute the adults if warranted.”