I have visited a place called “Hell on Earth”. The Al Hol Camp in North East Syria is the most dangerous place for children to live and it certainly lives up to its name, and more.
It was here that I met two of my grandchildren. Ready-made at 3 and 1 year old – I realised the extent that I had missed out on. First spoken words, first steps, and endless little discoveries that had been robbed from me as a grandfather.
It pains me to say that I haven’t been able to support or protect my daughter, after being forced at gun point to enter into Syria. She tried to leave and was forced into a second and third marriage.
Life in the camp is beyond harsh. The latest communications with my daughter reveal that with flooding, ice and mud and zero degrees weather at night, my grandson is now terribly sick. She is busy washing his only vomit covered blanket and clothes in buckets of ice cold water, to the reality that it will then take them two weeks to dry. She is broken no longer to cope with the situation.
In December 2019, Save the Children in co-operation with local family members launched the #bringourkidshome campaign. Focusing on the need to make 47 Australian children and their mothers safe, whom are in danger with their lives every single day.
In what is a unique and unseen circumstance, we have a non-state authority holding people without any charges waiting for Australian Government to request their return. This formal request is essential as the women do not have the ability to cross borders and checkpoints without Australian Government support.
What is the role of Government if not to protect its citizens? They are being held without access to medical help, education, sanitation or protection, clearly in breach of the 1969 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As the Northern Winter hits hard now, we are at risk every day of a child or their mother dying – two children have frost bite, one mother of 4 is severely underweight at less than 39kg, several children have shrapnel wounds and now permanent injuries due to lack of medical attention. The injury and sickness list goes on and on.
These are women that have been tricked or trafficked into North East Syria in the last 5 years, all tried to leave the brutal situation there and most have been forced to marry and remarry – their only concern has been the safety of their children.
Children under 5 make up 28% of the population of the camp, but in 2019 they accounted for 80% of all deaths in the camp. 50% of the Australians are under 5 (34 are under 5, 47 under 17 years and 20 women). The Kurdish Red Crescent state that they are seeing 2 children die every day to malnutrition or preventable illness. International aid agencies are limited in what they can provide due to political limitations. The result is this area receives very little help as compared to any other international catastrophe.
Encouraged by the Australian Law enforcement officers to surrender to the Kurdish Self Administration as a pathway home, they now languish in what the Red Cross has called the most dangerous place on the planet for children. We believe that the Australian Government has a responsibility both moral and legal to protect these vulnerable Australians.
This call has been joined by several organisations, including Save the Children, Human Rights Watch, Red Cross Australia, World Vision Australia, as well as several Muslim organisations and the Grand Mufti.
The Government claim that is too dangerous to get them however since November 2019 Germany, UK, Holland, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Albania and others have shown that it is safe and possible to do. Even the Australian Government have done this before, moving 8 minors (including a mother) in July 2019. The Australian can easily do this again. Once asks the question why not? As most recently as November , the Americans and the Kurds have offered to help and the Government has refused to take the offer up.
The other claim that these women could be dangerous does not stack up, the Government’s official position is that if they can make it to an embassy then they can come home, without any delay. If there is any concern then they should be dealt with like any other Australian, and they have all offered to work with law enforcement authorities. The offer to Control orders by consent was something I am told privately was an extraordinary and unprecedented offer and that showed exceptional goodwill.
The Government has run out of excuses and there is no reason to keep these Australians there at risk every day, at risk of disease, to violence, to vigilante mobs, to military unrest, to lack of food and water, and numerous other dangers.
The continuation of holding these children and women only undermines the human rights value we claim as a nation to uphold. Not only are we allowing abuse of children to continue, we are also doing away with the basics of our laws, like innocence till proven guilty, right to due process, right to reply, fairness and equity. No law anywhere in the world allows that children should pay for the sins of the father!
Regardless of what we think of the parents, these children should not suffer.
Your voice is needed, your help is powerful, join our campaign – find out more at www.bringourkidshome.com.au and join our call.