A group of women and children linked to Islamic State fighters have arrived in Sydney following a successful operation to repatriate displaced families stranded in Syrian refugee camps.
The four women and their 13 children, who had been living inside the al-Roj camp since the fall of IS in 2019, arrived at Sydney airport on Saturday morning.
They are the first Australian family members of IS fighters to be repatriated since July 2019, when eight orphans were returned home in a similar procedure.
An additional 43 women and children are expected to be repatriated from the north-eastern Syrian refugee camp in coming months.
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Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil confirmed the group’s arrival in a statement released on Saturday morning.
“At all times the focus has been the safety and security of all Australians as well as the safety of those involved in the operation,” Ms O’Neil said in a statement.
“Informed by national security advice, the Government has carefully considered the range of security, community and welfare factors in making the decision to repatriate.
“The decision to repatriate these women and their children was informed by individual assessments following detailed work by national security agencies.”
Ms O’Neil said alleged crimes will be investigated by the relevant authorities and any offences will result in law enforcement being taken.
“Allegations of unlawful activity will continue to be investigated by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team, comprised of the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, NSW Police and the NSW Crime Commission,” she said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Saturday declined to comment directly on the matter but said the safety of Australians was paramount.
“Australia will make sure of two things: One, that the Australian Government will always work to ensure that people are kept safe here in Australia, that is our priority. And secondly, that we’ll follow the national security advice and we will undertake every action as a result of not just accepting that advice, but implementing that advice,” he told reporters.
Save the Children CEO Mat Tinkler has welcomed the move saying the women and children can now focus on recovery.
“We highly commend the Australian government for following through on its promise to repatriate these innocent children and their mothers,” he said.
“These children can now leave the horrors of war behind them, focus on recovery from their ordeal and look forward to a childhood free from fear and violence at home in Australia.”
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