The last of Australian women and children in al-Hawl Syrian refugee camp have reportedly been removed, in a development that proponents have described as alarming and bittersweet.
According to local sources, the remaining 13 women and about 30 children have been displaced from the camp, which is home to nearly 70,000 refugees stranded after the conflict with the Islamic State in Syria.
The Australians are believed to be relocated to Roj, another camp also in northeast Syria, after other Australian women and children were brought there from al-Hawl last week.
Kamalle Dabboussy, whose daughter and grandchildren were being held in al-Hawl, learned early Tuesday morning that they had been removed from the camp.
He described the news as bittersweet, with Roj reportedly being a better managed camp with improved facilities and medical support.
Mr Dabboussy said the location closer to the Iraqi border would also facilitate repatriation to Australia.
“It’s almost like the Kurdish government is saying to the government, ‘Look, here they are, you can do something very easily without any risk to Australian personnel,’” he told SBS News.
“They can be very easily repatriated and they can also be very easily supported while there.”
But due to the move, Mr. Dabboussy loses contact with his daughter and grandchildren and doesn’t get much information about their well-being.
“The lack of contact will cause some grief and grief for some time to come,” he said.
Mr Dabboussy urged the Australian Government to take its responsibility towards the children in the camp and ensure their continued well-being and support.
He was joined by Save the Children and Human Rights Watch in calling on the Australian government to intervene to save the refugees.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.
In a statement after a group was removed from the camp last week, an Australian government spokesman said they were aware and were closely monitoring the situation.
“Our ability to provide consular assistance and passport assistance to Australians in both Syria and Iraq remains extremely limited due to the extremely dangerous security situation,” said the spokesman.
The government has expressed concern that women in the camp could maintain radicalized views, with some former brides of ISIS fighters.
Save the Children Australia deputy director Mat Tinkler said Tuesday that the camps in northeastern Syria are one of the worst places for a child.
He said Australia has a legal responsibility and a moral obligation to get the children and their mothers back to safety.
“They’re in the middle of the desert. Access to healthcare and other forms of support is very limited,” Tinkler told SBS News.
“We have children in these camps dying from treatable diseases all the time.
“So the only safe place for these innocent Australian children is to be taken to Australia as soon as possible.”
Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, said it was that the prisoners had just been transported from one camp to another.
“Obviously, this doesn’t solve the problem. These people are being held in arbitrary and unlawful detention … and what is ultimately needed is a long-term solution,” Ms. Pearson told SBS News.
“Let us not forget that 47 of these people are children and that children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents.”
She said the women in Australia could be investigated and prosecuted if they committed crimes.
“We also know that some of these women were themselves victims,” she said.
“Some of them were cheated, forced or traded there, so every case really has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.”