Dozens of Australian women and children living in Syrian detention camps are set to be repatriated, but an expert has warned against programs aimed at “de-radicalising” them.
Clarke Jones, a criminologist at the Australian National University, has been working for two years on a plan to safely return family members of self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) fighters who are stuck in Al- Hol and Roj in Syria.
They have been detained for more than three years after IS fell in March 2019. Some women say they were deceived, coerced or taken to Syria against their will by their now deceased husbands.
The Australian newspaper reported on Monday that a secret ASIO mission paved the way for the repatriation of the 42 women and 16 children to Australia.
Dr Jones warned that terms such as ‘deradicalisation’ in programs are not only misleading but can be harmful in an approach to providing appropriate mental health and family support.
“The worst thing we can do is set up an intensive model or a de-radicalization model. It’s not bringing them home,” he said.
“We don’t want people to be violent in our community, and that’s the real heart of the thing that we have to be concerned about, not those terms of ‘radicalization’.”
Dr Jones said assuming that every woman and child reacts to their experiences in the same way is “very flawed” and that he is cooperating fully with the government to ensure the right care is provided.
“To say they’re going to go through a fixed solution or a fixed program is ridiculous because we don’t know exactly what their needs will be,” he said.
“I think we would be naïve to say there is no risk, because some women and children have been exposed for a prolonged period to these kinds of conditions. We understand that there will be risks, but we do not know the magnitude. »
Al-Hol is the larger of two Kurdish-run displacement camps for relatives of IS members in northeast Syria, where Australian women and children are being held. Source: Getty / AFP/Delil Souleiman
As part of the repatriation plan, an eight-step “invisible care package” would be implemented alongside government oversight, which would include pre-departure education, psychological first aid, with risk assessment tools for determine whether they pose a danger to society.
“[The plan] actually relying on Muslim communities to provide a strong base of support for their return is really our goal,” Dr Jones said.
He said in conversations with family members, the women understood that their actions overseas would be investigated and they could be charged if they breached Australia’s terrorism laws. .
The model designed for families is already used in Morocco, Belgium and France. In July, France repatriated 51 women and children from the camps. A month earlier, Belgium had repatriated 16 of its nationals.
Dr Jones said the families involved had approved the proposal and he had approached the government with the plan.
The proposal was crafted alongside Kammalle Dabboussy, whose daughter Mariam and three grandchildren are stuck in the Al-Hol camps.
Dr Jones said that although the government has not informed him of its repatriation plan, it would be an “incredibly exciting prospect”.
Mr Dabboussy said ‘it is every parent’s wish to ensure their children are safe’.
“Families just want to welcome them into their homes and would happily cooperate with all levels of government to make that happen,” Mr Dabboussy said.
A spokesman for Home Secretary Clare O’Neil said any repatriation decisions are informed by national security advice.
“Given the sensitive nature of the issues at stake, it would not be appropriate to comment further,” the spokesperson said in a statement to SBS News.
“Unnecessary risk, huge cost”
The federal opposition remained staunchly opposed to the return of Australian women and children from detention camps in Syria.
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Karen Andrews said she did not approve of such a mission when she was the relevant minister in government due to concerns about radicalization and the dangers posed to officials Australians sent to Syria.
“There has always been a very strong view that women, in particular, were going there by choice… and they were generally complicit in the role they were supposed to play… in support of ISIS and foreign fighters,” she told the ABC. .
Ms Andrews said bringing them back ‘poses an unnecessary risk and a huge cost’ to have these people in the community.
“I haven’t seen anything to change my point of view.”
Federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek said it was important for women and children to receive counseling on arrival.
“We have about 40 Australian children living in one of the most dangerous places in the world in a refugee camp,” she told Seven Network.
“Some of the women, the mothers, were taken there when they were just children themselves and married to [Islamic State] fighters. Some of them were deceived, others were forced to go.”
The Labor Minister said security organizations would be expected to keep in touch and monitor returnees.
The government’s repatriation decision comes after UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, said the government had an “unequivocal international obligation” to bring the women back. and these children at home.