Government urged to get Australian families out of Syria camp ahead of Turkey invasion


Save the Children says time is running out to get Australian women and children to safety before a Turkey military offensive in northern Syria.

Australia is being urged to bring back more than 60 women and children trapped in the Al-Hawl camp in Syria ahead of a feared Turkey invasion. 

Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds said Australia had always had a "limited window of opportunity" to repatriate the Australian children and women languishing in camps in northeast Syria.

Mr Ronalds said that window was "rapidly closing" after the US began withdrawing troops from Syria's northern frontier on Monday. 

Australia is being urged to repatriate women and children from the El-Hawl camp in northern Syria.
Australia is being urged to repatriate women and children from the El-Hawl camp in northern Syria.

The shock US announcement effectively gives the green light to Turkey to move on its long-planned military offensive into its southern neighbour. 

Of the 70,000 people in the al-Hawl camp, there are 66 Australian citizens, including more 

"We urge the Australian government to urgently move the Australian children and women in the camps to safety, with a view to repatriating them," Mr Ronalds said.

"These children are innocent victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. They, along with the Australian women, must be moved to safety as an immediate priority.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia remains concerned for the welfare of Australians in displaced persons camps in Syria, but isn't committing to repatriation. 

"As we have made clear, we will not put Australian officials, forces or our public in danger, so any repatriation will occur only if safe to do so."

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was "way too dangerous" to send Australians in to rescue any citizens stranded there.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women Senator Marise Payne.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says Australia remains concerned for the welfare of its citizens in the camp.

Mr Morrison has also cautioned that some of the adults seeking to return to Australia could present a threat to the country. 

Senator Payne said the Australian Government urged restraint by all parties to the conflict in Syria and called for all to avoid "escalatory actions". 

A Turkish invasion would displace Kurdish forces in the area which have been crucial in fighting Islamic State. 

While it's unclear what would happen to those in the al-Hawl camp, the US statement makes it clear that Turkey would be responsible for the thousands of foreign fighters for Islamic State and their families.

Spokesperson for the families of Australians in the camp, Kamalle Dabboussy, said the government must act now. 

"These women are in a barbed wire fenced enclosure. They are sitting ducks, and I do not think it will be a smooth transition from Kurdish to Turkish control. There is a lot of deep-seated animosity there," Mr Dabboussy told the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Labor's Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally echoed Ms Payne's comments. 

"We know that the government are working with the national security agencies, and we encourage them to continue to do so to consider what can be done to ensure the safe removal of children, if that is possible now," Ms Keneally told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday. 

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