Fears children could become stateless after Australian government strips parents’ citizenship

SBS News has been told the Australian citizenship of a man and woman has been revoked making their children at the Al-Hol camp in Syria at risk of being stateless.

Displaced Syrians queue for water inside al-Hol camp for displaced people in northeastern Syria.

Displaced Syrians queue for water inside al-Hol camp for displaced people in northeastern Syria. Source: Getty

A couple has been stripped of their Australian citizenship over alleged terror links, prompting fears their children will be left stateless in Syria.

It is understood a 32-year old female who is located in the Al-Hol camp for refugees, and a man held at a Kurdish prison have had their citizenship retrospectively revoked, by the Australian government.

Spokesperson for the trapped families Kamalle Dabboussy told SBS News it was feared the couple's children, born in Syria, could be left without a nationality.

“We have the impact here on two kids that could remain stateless as a result of government legislation,” Mr Dabboussy told SBS News.

“We would hold great concern for their human rights going forward if they, in fact, remain stateless.”

Kamalle Dabboussy.
Source: SBS

The two children are believed to be aged between one and four.

Mr Dabboussy said “official correspondence” from the Australian government had advised local family members of the decision.

The parents in question were believed to have held Australian and Lebanese citizenship before the decision was made to revoke this status.

The Al-Hol camp is a refuge for women and children stranded in Syria after the collapse of the terror group IS. There are believed to be around 67 Australians in the camp, most of them (47) children.

SBS News has been advised the citizenship removal may have been based on provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act executed on the basis of links to a terror group.

“We’re aware of a number of cases where decisions by the Australian government may effectively render a child stateless,” Save the Children director of policy Mat Tinkler said.

“The Australian Government has a responsibility to protect these innocent children, to act in their best interests.”

Mat Tinkler, Director of Policy at Save The Children.
Source: AAP

This comes after the UN declared the children of IS fighters should be repatriated from Syria to avoid leaving them stateless if their parents are stripped of their nationality. 

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the children were in a “particularly precarious” situation since they often lacked official papers.

"This, in turn, jeopardises their rights to a nationality, hinders family reunification processes and puts them at a higher risk of exploitation and abuse," the UN report said.

UNICEF last year estimated there were some 29,000 children of foreign fighters in Syria - 20,000 of them from Iraq - and most of them under 12.

Following the collapse of self-proclaimed caliphate of IS last year, foreign fighters from nearly 50 countries were detained in Syria and Iraq.

“The UN report is a clear warning to all governments, including our own, of the dire consequences for children of such decisions,” Mr Tinkler said.

“The UN makes explicit that denying these children of their right to citizenship puts them at higher risk of exploitation and abuse.”

Mr Dabboussy said preliminary consultation with lawyers in Lebanon had concluded the children at risk would not be entitled to Lebanese citizenship.

“I don’t believe the intention of government legislation is to make children stateless but this is the impact,” he said.

“What responsibility do we have to make those children safe who up until three days ago were thought to be Australian and entitled to Australian citizenship?”

Mr Dabboussy said he planned to write to Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton to seek a reinstatement because of the "unintended impact”.

The Department of Home Affairs told SBS News it did not comment on individual cases. 

It is understood the couple also has three other children who were born in Australia.

Mr Dabboussy’s daughter and three grandchildren are among those in the Al-Hol camp.

He again urged the Australian government to secure their safe release.

“Knowing that others have done it … clearly it can be done,” he said.

“There is a lot of urgency for the Australian government to take action."

He said in the last week alone there were two incidents in which an Australian child nearly died.

“The situation is a challenge on a day to day basis in the camp from both, illness, weather and security,” he said.

“Regardless of what the public think the women and children should not be put into harm's way and the children need to be made safe.” 

*SBS News has chosen not to identify the subjects of this story

With wires

Published 17 January 2020 at 6:44pm
By Tom Stayner