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Islamic State brides and their children stranded in Syria will be taken to a third country in the Middle East before being returned to Australia, a former ADF special operations analyst has revealed.
The cabinet’s national security committee will meet on Tuesday to formally approve a rescue plan to repatriate more than a dozen families who recently underwent “risk assessments” following a secret ASIO mission to the war-torn country.
Sixteen Australian women and 42 children have been held for three and a half years in the al-Roj detention camp in northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border after the fall of Islamic State in March 2019.
The women left Australia to fight with their husbands for the fundamentalist terrorist movement before their short-lived ‘caliphate’ collapsed three and a half years ago.
The federal government’s controversial move to reverse its policy to ban foreign fighters and those who fled to Syria and Iraq to aid them has already been met with divisiveness in Australia.
Hosts of The Project on Monday raised questions about how the families would be reintegrated safely in Australia.
Former ADF intelligence analyst Shane Healey gave an adamant answer to co-host Carrie Bickmore’s question whether Australia is obliged to bring them back “even if there is a small risk”.
The federal government wants to repatriate 16 Australian women and 42 children who are currently being held in the al-Roj detention camp in northeastern Syria. Depicted are women and children in the camp
The women fled Australia to join their husbands who fought for ISIS before the short-lived ‘caliphate’ collapsed in March 2019 (photo, ISIS fighters)
“Yes, 100 percent,” Mr. Healey replied.
“I don’t see how we can get refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries and leave Australian citizens in such a terrible state.”
He stressed that women and children rescued from the detention camp will not be immediately transported to Australia and will need further examinations before they can go home, a process that could take months.
“They’re going to take them to a host country somewhere in the Middle East and give them a holistic assessment… psychological, educational, medical and that takes weeks and then slowly unpacking whether it’s trauma or medical issues and then they start building up to integrate back into Australia,” explained Mr Healey.
“Most young kids probably don’t even speak English or have had any formal education, so that would be one of the processes.”
The project’s Waleed Aly said what he described was comparable to other deradicalisation programs, which have a “slight” track record abroad.
But Mr Healey was confident that families would be reintegrated into Australia without a hitch, despite some public outcry.
Former ADF Special Operations Intelligence analyst Shane Healey (right) was asked by The Project’s Carrie Bickmore (left) whether Australia is obliged to bring them back ‘even if there is a small risk’
“I hate the term ‘deradicalised’ because I believe it is an extremist spectrum,” Mr Healey said.
“It’s not about being radical or their religion, it’s about their acceptance or use of violence.”
“Most of those courses or programs have failed because they try to address the religious aspects. I worked for Youth Justice NSW where we were very successful in this, we focused on their willingness or acceptance to use force to reach their end state.
“So that’s the key to this whole thing is when you do those assessments, that’s what you look at. What violence have they seen, what violence have they used and what is their view on the use of violence to achieve any goal?’
The segment ended with Mr Healey lashing out at the former Scott Morrison government for its tough policy of not allowing Australian citizens in Syrian detention camps to return.
He strongly refutes the previous government’s argument that taking families out of Syrian camps was a bad idea and was based on intelligence advice.
I think the previous government was not telling the whole truth and I would say (former minister) Peter Dutton had some other agendas,” said Mr Healey.
“Look at Matt Tinkler, the head of Save our Children. He’s been in and out of the camps several times.’
“NGOs go in and out of the camp without any problems, there are ABC and other journalists going into the camps without any problems and we have already dealt with these problems of Sudanese refugees in Australia without any problems.
“So I reject that outright and I think they’re wrong.”
It comes when a father and grandfather of an Australian woman and three children in a Syrian detention camp say he is excited at the prospect of getting them back.
Kamalle Dabboussy pictured with his daughter Mariam Dabboussy (right) and her daughters Aisha (left) and Fatema in the al-Hawl camp in northeast Syria. He vowed to work with all levels of government to bring his family home
A top-secret spy mission to refugee camps in Syria has cleared the way for stranded Islamic State brides and their children to return to Australia – a year-long ban by the Australian government overturned (ISIS fighters pictured)
Mariam Dabboussy left her middle-class life and worked in childcare for the war-torn Hellgat at age 22 with her 18-month-old baby after she married Kaled Zahab in 2015.
Ms Dabboussy and her three children are now being held in the al-Roj refugee camp and will be repatriated.
Her father Kamalle Dabboussy, who still lives in Sydney, says he has not been officially notified of the mission but would work with all levels of government to bring his family home.
“It is every parent’s desire to make sure their children are safe,” he said.
Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi said he believed “100 per cent” Australia would be safe once the women returned home.
He told Sky News that the country’s security services can also adequately monitor the women and children if there are any security concerns.
During the segment, Waleed Aly of The Project (left with co-host Carrie Bickmore) pointed to the ‘sketchy’ track record of other deradicalization programs abroad
Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler said the repatriation “cannot come soon enough”.
“Children have died in these camps,” he said.
“Australian children are poorly fed, suffer from untreated shrapnel and the situation is affecting their mental health.”
But the opposition is demanding more details.
Former Home Secretary Karen Andrews says she didn’t give the green light when she was in government because of the risk to Australian officials and concerns about radicalisation.
Ms Andrews said in her advisory that the women posed a security risk after traveling voluntarily and were “generally complicit in the role they were expected to play…to support ISIS and foreign fighters.”
The previous Australian government had a tough policy of denying citizens entry – many of their passports stripped under strict anti-terror laws (photo, al-Hol Syria refugee camp 2019)
Ms Andrews said bringing them back “involved an unnecessary risk and enormous cost”.
“I haven’t seen anything that changes my mind,” the opposition spokesman told the ABC.
But federal front bencher Tanya Plibersek disputed the bill.
“Some of the women, the mothers, were brought there as little more than children themselves and married off to (Islamic state) fighters,” she told Seven Network.
“Some were cheated, some were forced to go there.”