Australia Markets close in 5 hrs 22 mins

Scott Morrison has rejected US pressure to rescue dozens of Australian women and children from ISIS camps in Syria

Rosie Perper
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison is refusing a US offer to repatriate Australians that fled overseas to join the Islamic State.
  • Morrison on Monday said the government's hardline stance on rescuing its citizens in Syria has not changed and said individuals would be assessed on a "case by case basis."
  • Eight Australian ISIS militants and over 60 Australian women and children who were once part of the now-defunct Islamic State are believed to be among the thousands of foreign nationals still being held in ISIS displacement camps in northern Syria..

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is refusing to take US help in repatriating Australians that fled overseas to join the Islamic State.

The US has offered to help rescue foreign women and children who joined Islamic State in Syria during the country's tumultuous civil war and who are now being held in several displacement camps across Syria.

Kurdish-led fighters, known as The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have maintained control of tens of thousands of former ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Of those detainees, 11,000 of them are foreign nationals, according to the BBC.

Eight Australian foreign fighters are believed to be in ISIS detention camps in northern Syria along with over 60 Australian women and children who were once part of the now-defunct Islamic State.

The fate of those foreign fighters, women, and children remains uncertain, particularly in the wake of the US decision to withdraw its remaining troops from northern Syria, leaving Kurdish and Turkish forces to fight for control of the region.

Top US counter-terrorism official Nathan Sales told The ABC on Saturday that the US has offered to facilitate the return of foreign fighters and their families to its western allies.

"Our offer to other countries is 'we are prepared to help and we hope you'll accept that offer'," he said. "There's a number of different options on the table ... regardless of what means we use, the bottom line is, we need to get these kids, their parents and the fighters out of Syria and back to their countries of origin," he told The ABC.

But Morrison on Monday rejected the US offer and said the government's hardline stance on rescuing its citizens in Syria has not changed.

"Our assessment is done on a case by case basis, and our assessments at this point have not changed," Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.

In October, defence minister Linda Reynolds said the government had no immediate plans to repatriate Australian women and children stranded in diplomatic limbo in Syria.

"Consular support in the area is limited if not non-existent," she told reporters. "Any consideration of action by the Australian government will have to take into consideration the lives of anyone else we might send into the region. We will not jeopardise the lives of any other Australians."

According to Australian law, citizens who went overseas to fight for or become a member of a terrorist group, including ISIS, face up to 25 years in prison upon return.

In June, the government quietly rescued eight children of a deceased ISIS fighter from a refugee camp in northern Syria.

It's unclear how much longer foreign nationals will be held in Syria as Turkey is eager to return them to their home countries. Turkey has promised that it would not become "a hotel" for militants, and last week began deporting foreign nationals said to be linked to ISIS back to their countries of origin.

Despite the national security risks cited by Western nations, the UN has stood firm on pushing countries to take responsibility for their citizens.

"It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees," said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in June.

"Foreign family members should be repatriated unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards," she added.