Save the Children has written to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is finalising a report on the citizenship legislation. The NGO wants it amended to stop anybody with children under 14 having their citizenship revoked if it was against the interests of the child.
Before children aged over 14 have their citizenship removed, according to Save the Children, the government should be forced to take into account their maturity and cognitive development and their safety – a particularly relevant point in al-Hawl camp, which is dangerous and patrolled by Islamic State hardliners.
It is illegal to leave people stateless and they say the legislation is not fully compliant with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The proposal comes as community advocate Kamalle Dabboussy, who fears his daughter and grandchildren will die in the freezing camp, is pleading with the Australian Government to help. Mr Dabboussy’s 29-year-old daughter Mariam and her three kids are among 67 Australian mothers and children trapped in the camp.
The Government says it does not want to put lives at risk to rescue families who travelled into a war zone, while the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has issued arrest warrants for some men and women in Syria after conducting raids on properties in Melbourne and Sydney earlier this year.
“My greatest fear is that she will die – that they will die,” he told Nine. “I’ve already lost a child, after Mariam was born I had a son that didn’t survive and I don’t wish that upon anyone.”
Mr Dabboussy said Mariam was tricked by her late husband Khaled into crossing the border into Syria. She was pregnant and also had a toddler at the time, and was at the end of a family holiday in the Middle East. She had been desperate to come home ever since, he said.
“Whatever you think of the women, the children shouldn’t be paying the price,” Mr Dabboussy said. “Our view is that if you have the children’s best interests at heart, the children’s best interest is with their mother. The mothers have protected their children against all odds.
Last week the UN called on countries including Australia to bring their citizens home, with particular emphasis on the protection and rehabilitation of children.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton maintained the government’s position that it was not planning to extract women and children from the camp, but said it was look at each case on its merit.
“If you take your children into the middle of a war zone it’s very difficult for me to put our Australian soldiers and our officials at risk to go in there and extract people,” he said. “We will look at cases on their merit and the circumstances around each case. “
The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Nine News understands the US has offered help to repatriate the women and children to their countries of origin, including Australia.
Asked about the offer, Mr Dutton said: “We will deal with our partners in private, not in public.”
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police said it had increased its presence in the Middle East and was investigating Australians of counter-terrorism interest – but would not comment specifically on the women and children.
Michael Bachelard is The Age’s investigations editor. He has worked in Canberra, Melbourne and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. He has written two books and won multiple awards for journalism, including the Gold Walkley in 2017.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.