Karen Nettleton has travelled to Syria in an attempt to rescue a pregnant Zaynab, 17, Hoda, 16, and Humzeh, 8, from the refugee camp to which they fled as Kurdish-led forces stormed the militants’ last stronghold in Baghouz.
It was her first time she has seen them since a family holiday in Malaysia five years ago. Her daughter, Tara, the children’s’ mother, took them to Turkey and never returned.
Tara Nettleton died in Syria in 2015 from appendicitis complications.
The children’s father and their two brothers, Abdullah, 12, and Zarqawi, 11, were killed in September 2017 in a US air strike.
Ms Nettleton told ABC TV’s Four Corners the children weren’t “monsters” and were “absolutely not” a risk to Australia.
Describing her frustration with Australian authorities, she said: “We don’t get a yes or no answer. All they’ve said is that once we get to Turkey, they’ll give us all the help that they can, our medical, dental, physio, anything that we need.”
Ms Nettleton found her grandchildren at the al-Hawl refugee camp, where about 72,000 people are suffering as food, clean water and medical supplies dwindle. Dozens of children have also died there.
Zaynab, who is pregnant with her third child and suffering from malnutrition and shrapnel wounds, denied Australians had anything to fear if they returned.
She told Four Corners: “We weren’t the ones that chose to come here in the first place.
“I mean we were brought here by our parents. And now that our parents are gone, we want to live. And for me and my children I want to live a normal life just like anyone would want to live a normal life.”
A grandmother’s epic fight to bring her grandchildren home0:26
Karen Nettleton’s mission to bring her grandchildren back home from Syria. Courtesy: ABC
Hoda said he didn’t know her mother was taking them to Syria back in 2014, explaining: “I didn’t know I was in Syria until after we crossed the borders and I heard people speaking Arabic.
“I asked my Mum where we were. And she told me we were in Syria. I started crying.”
After leaving the camp and liaising with Australian and Kurdish authorities, Ms Nettleton told the children they would now work to extract them.
But it’s unclear how long they’ll have to wait.
“It’s just a matter of when they are going to take you,” she told Zaynab.
“What I think is going to happen is that you’ll get picked up in an ambulance. You’ll be taken across the border and you will be going through the Assad regime area and the only way for you to do it safely is in ambulance.”
The Daily Telegraph recently reported that if the children could get to an Australian embassy, they would likely be provided passports to return home.