The Australian government is preparing to launch a mission to rescue dozens of Australian women and children trapped in Syrian detention camps, APA reports citing The Guardian.
More than 20 Australian women and more than 40 children – the widows, sons and daughters of slain or jailed Islamic State combatants – remain within the al-Hol and Roj detention camps in north-east Syria.
Australia will repatriate more than 20 of its citizens, most of them children, but will not be able to bring all Australians out of the camps at once. Subsequent operations are expected in coming months.
Many of the women held in the camps say they were coerced or tricked into travelling to Syria by husbands who have since died. Most of the Australian children are under six; several were born in the camps.
The Guardian has confirmed with multiple sources that a rescue mission is impending.
A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, told Guardian Australia on Sunday: “The Australian government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and Australia’s national interest, informed by national security advice. Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
Most of the Australians – including 44 children – are held in the Roj camp, closer to the Iraqi border. It is considered safer than al-Hawl, but malnutrition, illness and violence are common.
Al-Hawl, where one Australian family group and several children with a right to Australian citizenship are held, is considered exceedingly dangerous, with IS still active. More than 100 murders were reported in the 18 months to June this year.
Other countries with nationals inside the Syrian camps have been steadily repatriating them.
Germany has repatriated 91 of its citizens, France 86 and the US 26. Kazakhstan has returned more than 700 of its nationals, Russia and Kosovo more than 200 each. France is running an operation repatriating its citizens, including orphans.