Australia

Extracting Australians in Syria a 'dangerous, very complex' task, says Marise Payne

Foreign Minister Marise Payne Source: AAP

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says extracting Australian women and children from camps in Syria is a dangerous, complex and time-consuming task.

Evacuating Australian women and children from camps in northern Syria is anything but simple, the foreign minister says.

"It is very dangerous, it is very complex, it is very time-consuming," Marise Payne told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

"We are working with - and we have to work with - not just humanitarian agencies but non-state forces and groups in the community that assist countries who are trying to repatriate their citizens."

The United States has decided to pull out of northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish invasion.

Senator Payne said the government was very concerned by reports of strikes conducted along the Syria-Iraq border, and even more worried about suggestions of an operation being launched into northern Syria.

"They would have very, very significant consequences for the region," she said.

Fears are now growing for the safety of Australian citizens trapped in the war-torn region.

Senator Payne said the government could only offer limited consular assistance to the women and children, but was doing what it could to ensure their safety.

"We have said all along that it is very, very difficult and we are very limited in the consular assistance we can provide to Australians in Syria and other conflict zones," she said.

"Although we are concerned for the welfare of those people, our priority is the protection of Australia and the Australian community.

"What we are able to do we will do, and we do, but we won't put further Australian officials or forces or the public in danger in doing so."

Save the Children's Mat Tinkler and father of an Australian woman in Syria, Kamalle Dabboussy, say the government has just days to act.
Save the Children's Mat Tinkler and father of an Australian woman in Syria, Kamalle Dabboussy, say the government has just days to act.
AAP

Advocates of the Australian women and children believe the government has just days to act before Turkey could invade and conflict resumes.

Kamalle Dabboussy has been lobbying for the Australian government to repatriate the remaining 66 Australians, including his daughter Mariam and two grandchildren.

He stepped up those calls on Tuesday, fearing Turkey will take the opportunity to seize control of the area surrounding the al-Hawl camp from the Kurds.

“They can’t run, they can’t go anywhere, so they are stuck in what would be another war zone,” he said.

“There was confusion, there has been fear there has been panic and the women feel quite abandoned."

'Highly dangerous, highly unpredictable situation'

Senator Payne said the government was speaking to international partners and humanitarian agencies about the "highly dangerous, highly unpredictable" situation on the ground in Syria.

"Each of those individual families have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis," the minister said.

"They all have different experiences - no one family group is the same as another - and they have all been engaged in different ways in the environment in the Middle East."

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