by Owen Hsieh, 27th May, 2019
Following the spectacular collapse of ISIS, through a protracted, bloody civil war, three orphaned young Australian citizens are trapped in a Syrian refugee camp, Australian citizens Zaynab (17), Hoda (16) and Hamza (8).
Zaynab is already mother to two small toddlers after being married at 13 to her fathers friend and fellow Australian IS recruit Mohamed Elomar, (Elomar since killed in a drone strike in 2015). Zaynab currently has Ayesha (3) and Fatima (2), and she is seven and a half months pregnant with a third child.
The three children are orphans following the death of their parents and siblings in the course of the conflict.
Their mother, Tara Nettleton, died following complications stemming from an operation for appendicitis in 2015, after she followed her husband, bringing the family to Syria.
While their’ father, notorious ISIS fighter Khaled Sharrouf, and the two eldest sons, Abdullah (9) and Zarqawi (8), were killed in a drone strike near Raqqa in 2017.
The children are currently trapped in the Kurdish al-Hawk camp in Eastern Syria after fleeing subsequent conflict zones, and are currently in the care of Zaynab’s second husband and their fathers’ second wife.
The children’s grandmother, Karen Nettleton, has campaigned relentlessly for their repatriation home, raising issues of their basic health and wellbeing to advocate for them.
In a report by the ABC, Ms Nettleton was quoted the following:
“They’re with other Australian and foreign fighters (in the camps) and they shouldn’t be in amongst all of that, Zaynab is seven-and-a-half months pregnant, she’s feeling very fatigued, Hodeh’s got a foot injury, she has no feeling in her foot so it’s very difficult for her to get around.”
Faced with such realities, when questioned at a recent press conference on the process of repatriating foreign fighters and their children, the latest Australian PM Scott Morison was found callous and unresponsive.
“I’m not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations.
I think it’s appalling that Australians have gone and fought against our values and our way of life and peace-loving countries of the world in joining the Daesh fight. I think it’s even more despicable that they put their children in the middle of it.”
In a sign of his unseriousness on the matter, the rest of his rambling response to the question went on to denounce the Labor party for being soft on national security and to raise the issue of Labor’s potential preference of the Greens ahead of the Coalition on the ballot form in the coming election.
Whatever his opinion on the matter, as ‘appalled’ he may be, it is a fact that these children are Australian citizens and have definite civic rights, including access to consular assistance.
In recent developments, the Sharrouf children, and the efforts of their valiant grandmother to ensure their safe return to Australia were the exclusive focus of an ABC tv Four Corners program – ‘Orphans of ISIS’ (which can be streamed through the ABC Iview app, or found here). This program documented Karen Nettleton’s long campaign to bring the children home, in her numerous trips abroad to try find them.
Finally they are reunited in a Syrian refugee camp for a short while, before her efforts to ultimately repatriate them is stymied by the lack of diplomatic assistance from the Australian government. At the programs conclusion Karen is forced to go home alone.
In the face of this media interest in the story, Morrison backtracked somewhat on the question of assisting the children, in a radio interview on the 5th of April (his last public comment on the matter), he went on to state that his government is willing to provide limited diplomatic assistance. In the case that the children are able to leave the Syrian refugee camp, and make it across the border to Turkey, or some other safe zone, with the help of the Red Cross society or some other NGO.
But this is beyond belief, these are not the actions of a government who are serious about helping these orphaned children, asking a NGO to do the work of the state!
In refusing to help these children, this tawdry episode follows a pattern of the attack on the right of asylum and the civic rights of Australian citizenship, in an ongoing effort to reduce democratic and constitutional rights, from an inalienable entitlement, to a privilege that can be stripped away at any time.
This episode is but the latest in a ongoing pattern of attack on the right of asylum, like that of David Hicks, Julian Assange, etc.
David Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, he was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 where he was illegally held in inhumane and punitive conditions for over 5 years as an alleged terrorist. He was released only after a massive, protracted public campaign for his freedom, where he was given a choice, to either plead guilty to providing material support for terrorism, or spend the rest of his life in prison.
He was later quoted:
“It was the Howard government, who was responsible for knowingly leaving me in those cruel and inhumane conditions for so long, allowing the situation to get out of control and for making my ordeal a high-profile event for what they must have considered political advantage.”
Like these children, he was then denied his fundamental rights to a vigorous and determined diplomatic effort to assists him.
Or we could consider the case of Julian Assange, who published the damning political exposures of massive government misconduct, corruption and war crimes through the Wikileaks organisation, an organisation made famous for exposures such as the infamous Collateral murder video and the Iraq war logs.
He was subsequently forced the seek political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in the face of the threat of extradition to the US where he would be subject the charges of espionage, a charge that potentially carries the death penalty. These fears have been entirely borne out in after a conspiracy of the U.S., U.K, and Moreno Ecuadorian Government ripped up Assange’s asylum saw him dragged out of the Embassy, thrown into Belmarsh prison and sentenced to a year in prison for “skipping bail”. He now faces extradition to the U.S. and up to 175 years in prison or worse.
Both Labor and Liberal Governments have played a role in allowing this to happen. Australia’s last foreign minister, Julie Bishop, under Malcolm Turnbull consistently refused to intervene or advocate on his behalf, a fact demonstrated through a cursory read of the documents obtained by Kelly Tranter through her FOI requests on the matter, “the Australian government has very deliberately “sat on its hands” in the case of Julian Assange”.
Far from being a one off incident, it was a deliberate policy, In July 2018, Julie Bishop was again dismissive, quoted to say that Assange’s case is a “matter for British law enforcement and their agencies”.
This demonstrates that the sad case of Khaled Sharrouf’s children, trapped in a refugee camp in Syria in great duress, with no substantial diplomatic and consular assistance is only the latest, yet especially repugnant, episode on the part of the government of the day. In a well worn pattern of attacks on the right of asylum and access to diplomatic assistance, the Sharrouf children have been denied their birthright.
For the crime of letting those children languish in Syria, where they are at risk, those social and political forces responsible must be shamed out of existence. In order to defend these orphans, they must be dumped from office in a politically informed mass movement based on a socialist program.