Judge rejects order to repatriate Australian women and children from Syria

ISIS brides lose bid to return to Australia

The Australian government won’t be forced to repatriate 11 women and 20 children from detention camps in northern Syria after a ruling by a Federal Court judge.

Friday’s judgment devastated families of the women, who were in court for the ruling.

The 31 who were part of the case are among 34 Australian women and children being held by the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES) and its defence arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Those groups are backed by the Global Coalition Against Daesh, which is supported by countries including Australia, the US and Britain.

Save the Children CEO Mat Tinkler said he had grave fears an innocent Australian child would die in the camps.

Save the Children launched a legal battle for the group’s return, hopeful previous repatriations of women and children would be relied on by Justice Mark Moshinsky to force the federal government’s hand with the remaining group.

The Morrison government repatriated a group in 2019, and four women and 13 children were returned by the Albanese government in October 2022.

In a hearing in September, Save the Children’s barrister Peter Morrissey SC argued the Commonwealth has sufficient power and control to have the women released from detention, and sought a writ of habeas corpus requiring them to be returned to Australia.

The women are all Australian citizens and their children are either citizens or eligible for citizenship.

But Moshinsky on Friday determined that the Australian government did not have that control, and the case should be dismissed.

Save the Children also argued a non-decision by the government on whether or not to repatriate the group was actually a decision not to seek their return, and sought review of that.

Moshinsky dismissed the case on that ground also, finding there was no such decision to be reviewed.

The reasons for his decision are confidential until lawyers have had time to review them.

Tinkler said he feared an innocent Australian child, who had pinned a lot of hope on this court case, would die in the camps. He maintained the government didn’t need a court order to arrange repatriation.

“If they do not take action to repatriation we really believe that an innocent Australian child will die on their watch,” he said.

The groups would take time to consider the judgment and any grounds for appeal.

Tinkler said family members who were in court had been realistic about the claim’s prospects, but had grabbed onto anything that would give them hope their loved ones could come home.

“They’re devastated at the moment and I think they are looking to the Australian government to do the right thing,” he said.

Earlier this year Morrissey said US leaders considered slow repatriation from camps as one of the biggest impediments to defeating Islamic State, and that AANES representatives had repeatedly stated they were ready and willing to help nations repatriate foreign citizens.

Tinkler said the US, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Iraq were repatriating citizens without the need for a court order.

“Australia has shown in the past that they can do this. They’ve got the capability and the team set up to repatriate these citizens,” he said.

“We say don’t wait, just get on and get the job done.”

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