In an open letter on Saturday, Save the Children called on the future Prime Minister to publicly commit to repatriate all Australian children of foreign fighters in North East Syria, along with their families.
New estimates put the number of foreign children living in camps in North East Syria at almost 7,000, double what was originally thought. It includes more than 3,400 children under 5.
The children of Khaled Sharrouf, an Australian IS fighter who was killed, are living in a dangerous camp in North East Syria, where there are food shortages, malnutrition is rife and there is limited access to basic services like health and education.
Sharrouf’s eldest daughter Zaynab, who has two young children and is pregnant with a third, reportedly tells ABC’s Four Corners program tonight: “We weren’t the ones that chose to come here in the first place. We were brought here by our parents”, and “I just want to get out of here”.
Chief Executive of Save the Children Australia, Paul Ronalds said Australian children of foreign fighters are the victims of horrific decisions made by their parents and they must be brought back to Australia.
“Governments who have wanted to repatriate their citizens have been able to do so, including countries like France,” Mr Ronalds said.
“If the Australian Government is serious about bringing these children home, the first step must be to commit to a policy of repatriation. Then we can help identify the most appropriate way to do repatriate in line with the best interests of the child.”
Save the Children is working in several camps in North East Syria, including by supporting many of the 355 unaccompanied and orphaned children as estimated by the UN, majority of whom lost a parent in the fighting.
“Save the Children is also providing psychosocial support in the camps to help these children, and all children in the camps, to recover from the traumatic experiences they have lived through,” Mr Ronalds said.
“However, the best way to support the mental health needs of these children is to repatriate them to their countries of origin with their families. Australia in particular has the expertise and resources to support children’s physical and psychological recovery and reintegration into society.”
Save the Children is also monitoring and screening the recent arrivals for those with urgent needs, as well as distributing winter kits, life-saving food, and other items like jerry cans and heaters.
In its centenary year, Save the Children will launch a global campaign calling on all responsible governments, including Australia, to do more to stop the war on children. Visit www.stopthewaronchildren.org.au to find out more.
For media inquiries contact Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918.