Fierce debate erupts over repatriation of Australian families from Syrian detention camps

Home Secretary Clare O’Neil has accused the opposition of hypocrisy over the repatriation of Australian women and children from Syrian detention camps.

Four women and 13 children arrived in Sydney last weekend after the government backed their repatriation.

Some of these women are the wives, widows and sisters of Islamic State (IS) fighters, who say they were tricked or coerced into traveling to the Middle East.

Women and children are settling in western Sydney, with some community leaders worried about potential safety risks.

Shadow Home Secretary Karen Andrews has criticized the rescue mission and raised concerns about potential risks to the Australian public.

“I think the political politics of the Leader of the Opposition is shameful,” Ms O’Neil told the ABC on Friday.

“It is pure hypocrisy because the liberals did the exact same thing in 2019, repatriated a group of people from these camps.

“For some reason they are now saying it’s not appropriate. People are tired of this kind of politics.”

Families have been detained for years in the Roj detention camp in northeast Syria. Many are returning home.(ABC News: Jamal Bali)

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was in western Sydney this week, where he said community leaders had raised their concerns with him.

Speaking on Friday, he said the repatriations posed a security threat.

“The government’s job is to make sure Australians are safe and not introduce an element of risk into the system. They did just that,” Mr Dutton told Channel Nine.

“I was in western Sydney yesterday at Fairfield and I can tell you that the communities that have lost loved ones to IS fighters in the Middle East are beside themselves and worried about this what’s going to happen in their local community, the local schools, when you take that ideology back to the local community.”

Labor leader Jason Clare, who represents the Western Sydney electorate of Blaxland, echoed Ms O’Neil’s comments.

Appearing on Sunrise with Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley, he said he was not told by the then coalition government that people were being repatriated to his constituency.

“You brought home women who were married to ISIS fighters and you also brought home their children. I was not told,” he said.

“I didn’t criticize it at the time because I trust our law enforcement. What I’m saying is you’re a hypocrite for doing it at the time and having it attacked now.”

In a statement released after the TV segment, Ms Ley said the former government only repatriated eight children in 2019 and they were all orphans.

Independent MP Dai Le said the repatriations were hurtful for Christian refugees in her south-west Sydney constituency.

She said members of her Assyrian community had been targeted by IS militants.

But Ms O’Neil insisted the government was listening to security advice and there was a greater risk of leaving them in Syria.

“One of the things that hasn’t been properly discussed here is the risk to Australia if we don’t do something,” she said.

“The truth is that we have a relatively large group of Australian children who would otherwise grow up in a camp where violent ideology is one of the main focuses and influences on their lives and I don’t think that’s good for the country. .”

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