29 October 2022 - Australia

13 children repatriated to Australia from Syria camps

Save the Children welcomes the repatriation of 13 Australian children and their mothers after years in Syrian camps

29 October 2022 – Australia repatriated 13 children and four women from camps in North East Syria today, in a move welcomed by Save the Children.

For more than three years, the children had been trapped in camps in North East Syria that have seen an increase in violence, little to no healthcare and education services, limited access to food and a rise in child labour and child marriage, Save the Children said.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said: "This is an important milestone in a long and heart-wrenching journey for these children and their families.

"As innocent victims of war, they have had their childhoods taken away from them, facing horrors that no child should ever have to experience.

"While today we celebrate their arrival home, we know there are still a number of Australian children stuck in camps in North East Syria. We urge the government to repatriate them as quickly as possible. We will not rest until every Australian child is brought home.

"For those children who are returning to Australia, they will now face a long road ahead to recover from any traumatic experiences and reintegrate into society. For the repatriated women, this process may also include facing Australia's robust judicial system, in cases where there is evidence that any crimes have been committed."

Beat Rohr, Save the Children's Interim Syria Response Director, said: "This is great news – and shows Australia and the world that this can be done. But children languishing in these conditions need leaders to step up. In just two months, temperatures in North East Syria will be freezing, exposing thousands of children to numerous health risks.

"We urgently need every country to repatriate its children from these camps, so that they can start to recover from their experiences and assume a normal life. In these overcrowded camps with little access to basic services and in a volatile area, this is currently impossible. The remaining children are desperate for the chance to go home – just so they can have a future to look forward to."

The repatriation of Australians comes as nations including Germany, the United Kingdom and France recently brought home citizens from Roj and Al Hol camps, in a move welcomed by Save the Children. Eight Australian children were also repatriated by the Morrison Government in 2019.

About 11,000 foreign children and women remain in Roj and Al Hol camps, where the risks to children have only increased due to escalating violence and a cholera outbreak across the region.

Only last month, a six-year-old Russian child reportedly died after being run over by a truck in the Al Hol Annex camp, while other children recently witnessed their mother's dead body abandoned by the side of the road as killings in the camp increased by 250% in the second quarter of this year.

Save the Children research from a year ago said that children left in the camps are "wasting away", with crumbling healthcare and education services, and more than half of households in Roj are aware of child labour among children under the age of 11.

Lasting solutions are also desperately needed for thousands of Syrian and Iraqi children, who still face harsh conditions and a bleak future outlook in the camps.

Notes to the Editors:

Save the Children provides protection and support services in Al Hol and Roj camp, including child-friendly spaces. This includes recreational activities, such as sport, music, art and storytelling, combined with psychosocial support. Save the Children also provides specialised case management support for children with particular needs as well as nutrition and education services.

Save the Children's Syria Response Office operates out of three offices in North East Syria: Raqqa, Derek and Hasakah, with operations in both camp and community settings, implementing child protection, education, nutrition, livelihood, WASH and distributing non-food items.

Save the Children Australia has been campaigning for the repatriation of Australian citizens since 2019. The agency stands ready to assist state child support services and work with families to ensure these children are provided with the support they need to resettle into the Australian way of life.

Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409