The returning group of four women and 13 children is the most vulnerable among 60 Australian women and children held in the Roj camp in northeast Syria, officials say.
The first group of Australian women and children held in a Syrian camp since the Daesh terror group fell in 2019 is bound for Sydney despite government opponents arguing they pose an unacceptable threat, a media organisation has reported.
The four women and 13 children had left the Roj detention camp in northeast Syria on Thursday and were taken to Iraq before boarding a flight to Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Friday.
They would be the only Australians involved in the Daesh terror campaign in the Middle East to be officially repatriated apart from the eight offspring of two slain combatants.
The militants' children and grandchildren were returned by the previous Australian government in 2019.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese did not comment on the details of the ABC report. He also would not say what would happen once the group reached Australia or whether they would be monitored.
“My government will always act to keep Australians safe and will always act on the advice of the national security agencies,” Albanese told reporters.
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Australian officials had assessed the returning group as the most vulnerable among 60 Australian women and children held in Roj, the ABC said. Most of the children were born in Syria.
Their return would likely be the first step in repatriating all Australians detained in Syria, ABC reported.
Senior lawmakers in the previous conservative government that was voted out of office in May elections after nine years in power say their administration did not repatriate more Australians from Syria because of the domestic risk they may pose.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said that view was firmed after a confidential briefing from Mike Burgess, director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation’s domestic spy agency known as ASIO.
“I must say that I am more strongly of the view now that there is a very significant risk in bringing some of these people to our country that can’t be mitigated, frankly. Not to the level, we would require to keep Australians safe,” Dutton said earlier this month.
Albanese said on Friday his government had acted on national security advice just as his predecessors had done when the eight children were repatriated.
Australian allies in the Middle East conflict including the United States, Germany and France have already repatriated dozens of their citizens in similar circumstances in Syria.
A British woman who repatriated with her child this month became the first adult to be allowed back into Britain from a Syrian camp since Daesh fell.
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