Australian Women and Children in Syrian Refugee Camp Lose Legal Right to Return Home

A group of Australian women and their children stranded in a Syrian refugee camp has lost their legal attempt to compel the Australian government to bring them back home to a safe place.

Key points: Twenty Australian children and 11 women are stuck in the Al-Roj camp in northern Syria. The legal bid to bring them home has been rejected. Lawyers from the Save the Children charity will consider grounds for appeal. Save the Children charity filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court on behalf of 20 children and 11 women trapped in the war-ravaged country's northeastern camp.

This morning, Federal Court Judge Mark Moshinsky rejected the application.

"Save the Children acted as what's called a next friend in the legal proceedings, which meant we stood in the shoes of these innocent children who found themselves in a very difficult position in northeast Syria and brought proceedings on their behalf because they couldn't do it from where they were," Save the Children said. Matt Tinkler, CEO of Children Australia, told an ABC press briefing.

"The application was for a writ of habeas corpus — and that's one of the most fundamental rights in common law, allowing a person detained against their will to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

"We sought to prove that the Australian Government effectively controlled the detention of these innocent children and their mothers in northeast Syria, and therefore they should be compelled to bring these children and their mothers before the court to determine the lawfulness of their detention.

"And that, of course, would mean their repatriation to a safe place here in Australia."

The reasons for the decision will remain confidential for seven days.

Mr. Tinkler said he was devastated by the outcome, and lawyers from the Save the Children organization would consider whether there were grounds for an appeal.

"It's been a harrowing experience for the families here at home who've been watching their daughters and granddaughters stuck in one of the worst places in the world for childhood for four and a half years," he said.

"It's agonizing for those women and innocent children who are in northeast Syria — they had placed great hope in this legal action.

"Every blow is simply a hammer blow on these children, and blow after blow, their hopes are diminishing.

"And we are seriously concerned about their welfare and safety — every day they remain in these camps, they are at risk."

Mr. Tinkler argued that time was running out for the group.

"Most of the children are young children," he said.

"There are a few boys who are approaching adolescence or are in adolescence, and there's a real risk that when they do, they'll be transferred from the family camps to adult prisons.

"And once that happens, there are extremely serious concerns for their safety and their future well-being."

The federal government had previously repatriated Australian women and their children from Syria.

Lawsuit in Syrian Camp A group of 26 Australians living in a camp in Syria filed a lawsuit against the Department of Home Affairs.

Aerial view of a large refugee camp. Read more "I've been to these camps myself last year, and I've seen firsthand that crossing the border in northeastern Syria is relatively straightforward, working with the local administration and making contact with these children and repatriating them," Mr. Tinkler said.

"So it's a question you should ask the government. We think there are definitely no reasonable grounds for them to remain there."

Mr. Tinkler argued that those who had already been brought home had reintegrated into society.

"My favorite photo that I'm showing my team now is a photo of three children dressing up for the Book Week parade this year; it's their first Book Week parade," he said.

"These were children I saw in the camp in Syria last year, and they were in very, very bad shape.

"They came home to Australia, they were surrounded by the love of their families, they received psychological support, dental care, medical care, they went to school, they're leading a life that we expect as Australians."