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Families of Islamic State fighters to sue Australia over repatriation

  • Holly Robertson

    Agence France-Presse

Sydney, Australia   /   Thu, July 25, 2019   /   04:04 pm
Families of Islamic State fighters to sue Australia over repatriation Displaced people gather before boarding a bus waiting outside the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria's Al-Hasakeh governorate on June 3, 2019, as Kurdish authorities started sending home 800 Syrian women and children who had been evacuated from the Islamic State group's (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

Australia faces a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to repatriate Islamic State fighters' wives and children from a Syrian refugee camp, lawyers for their families told AFP Thursday.

The threat of a lawsuit comes the same day as parliament passed legislation to prevent Australian citizens who have fought for the Islamic State from returning home for up to two years under so-called "temporary exclusion orders".

Lawyers for the Australia-based families of nearly 30 women and children currently held in Syria's Al-Hawl camp said the firm was preparing to refer their case to the Federal Court in coming days.

Sarah Condon, of the Melbourne law firm Stary Norton Halphen, said the government had a legal obligation to protect Australian civilians abroad and called for a timeframe for the extraction of the families living in conditions she described as "increasingly volatile and dangerous".

"The urgency therefore arises from the hellish conditions of the camp, and the psychological damage that is caused to children when they are being indefinitely detained," Condon told AFP.

Eight orphans of two Australian IS fighters were removed from the camp in June into the care of Australian officials.

"We understand that it is not an easy logistical task, and that it may take time," Condon said of repatriating the remaining families.

"We know that it is a possible task however, as they have already successfully returned two families to Australia -– we commend those efforts, and urge the efforts to be extended to all women and children."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he had "a lot of sympathy" for children born to foreign fighters abroad, but the government had to be "cognisant of the threat" that some of the women and older children could pose if they were to return.

"Some women have been dragged by their husbands into the Middle East in horrific circumstances and there are others who are willing participants and are an equal threat to Australians," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

The fate of foreign fighters and their families has become a significant problem for governments as the conflict against IS draws to a close.

Similar legal action has been launched against the French and German governments, and several European countries have repatriated children from Syria in recent months.

Dutton has said the government was aware of 80 Australians who remained in active conflict zones after travelling to Iraq and Syria. 

Condon's firm said it has identified at least 40 Australian children in al-Hawl camp alone, an unknown number of whom were born abroad.