A top-secret spy mission into refugee camps in Syria has resulted in a policy shift that will allow stranded Islamic State brides and their children to return to Australia – overturning a years-long ban by the Australian government.
The women left Australia to join their husbands fighting for the Islamist terror movement before their short-lived ‘caliphate’ collapsed in March 2019.
Most of the Australians who had joined the fight or attempted were killed in action or settled in refugee camps.
The Australian government had a strict policy of denying these citizens re-entry – stripping many of their passports under tough anti-terror laws.
But now intelligence agencies believe that leaving the Australians in the squalid camps could pose a greater threat to national security than leaving them there, as their plight could be used to recruit more Australian Muslims to join terrorist organizations .
As a result, 16 women and 42 children held in north-eastern Syria’s al-Roj prison camp near the Iraqi border will be repatriated in the coming days and weeks following ‘risk assessments’ in August and September. The Australian reported.
A top-secret spy mission into refugee camps in Syria has cleared the way for stranded Islamic State brides and their children to return to Australia – reversing a year-long Australian government ban (ISIS fighters pictured)
Most of the Australians who had ventured to join the fight or support the cause were either killed in action or fled to refugee camps (pictured, al-Hol refugee camp Syria 2017)
The controversial move is likely to divide opinion in Australia.
It is understood that all those repatriated will be subject to intensive surveillance by security agencies and some will face terrorism charges as it was illegal for many at the time to travel to Syria and Iraq.
‘The Australian Government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and the Australian National Security Council,’ a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said on the matter.
“Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
Many women who fled Australia to marry ISIS fighters or join their husbands were forced to leave.
One of those women was western Sydney woman Mariam Dabboussy, who left middle-class life here to work in childcare for the war-torn hellhole aged just 22 with her 18-month-old baby after marrying Kaled Zahab in 2015.
The Australian government had a strict policy of denying citizens re-entry – stripping many of their passports under tough anti-terror laws (pictured, al-Hol refugee camp Syria 2019)
Many women who fled Australia to marry ISIS fighters or join their husbands were forced to leave (pictured, an Iraqi refugee in al-Hol camp in 2017)
“It started as a normal holiday,” Ms Dabboussy previously told the ABC’s Four Corners.
‘My husband had never left the country at that time. So it was the first time he had agreed to take me abroad.
‘We had planned a really nice holiday. We went to Malaysia, took me to Dubai, we went to Lebanon.’
Ms Dabboussy was initially taken from Lebanon to a house in southern Turkey near the Syrian border.
From there she was driven to a dusty plot of land.
“There were other people there and there was… there was a man there,” she said.
“And he started telling us, “Run before they shoot, run before they start shooting.” And we didn’t know what was going on.’
Mariam Dabboussy was not a devout Muslim, but her life changed at the age of 22 when she married Kaled Zahab (pictured). The woman, who had been a childcare and migrant worker, went to the Middle East in mid-2015 with her husband and their 18-month-old child
‘I looked around, I thought, “What am I going to do?” I’m in the middle of nowhere, I don’t even know where I am. There are shots. Now I just started running.’
She didn’t get far, with men bundling her into a car and taking her to a house that had a black Islamic State flag.
‘When I went into that house and I saw a flag, I saw a flag and I kind of asked around,’ Ms Dabboussy said.
‘Some women, they spoke very broken Arabic, they didn’t really speak. They were a little surprised that I didn’t know what was going on. Some of them laughed at me.
“I mean, as it went on, we just found out that we were just being ripped off by the boys.”
Kamalle Dabboussy pictured with her daughter Mariam Dabboussy (right) and her daughters Aisha (left) and Fatema in the al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria
Dabboussy and her three children are now detained in al-Roj refugee camp and are set to be repatriated.
Her father Kamalle said they have not yet been formally informed of her return but ‘look forward to receiving more information from the government’.
“As always, we stand ready to cooperate with the government on the process,” he said.
“If true, this will give vulnerable children an opportunity to be protected and in line with what we have been calling for for almost four years now.”