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Judge rejects order to repatriate Aust women from Syria

The father of a woman repatriated from a Syrian refugee camp is devastated that a court has rejected a push for women and children held alongside her to be returned.

A Federal Court judge ruled on Friday not to force the Australian government to repatriate 11 women and 20 children, after a legal challenge brought by Save the Children.

They're among 34 Australians being held in detention camps in northern Syria, run by the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES) and its defence arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Those groups are backed by the Global Coalition against Daesh, which is supported by countries including Australia, the United States and United Kingdom.

Mat Tinkler and Kamalle Dabboussy (file image)
Kamalle Dabboussy (right) said the government doesn't need a court to repatriate women and children.

Save the Children launched a legal battle for the group's return, hopeful previous repatriations would be relied on by Justice Mark Moshinsky to force the federal government's hand.

The Morrison government repatriated a group in 2019, and four women and 13 children were returned by the Albanese government in October 2022.

Family of the women are disappointed with the ruling.

They're also watching with some bemusement as the government makes strong efforts negotiating in difficult circumstances to get people out of Gaza, while the situation to return their loved ones seems much simpler.

"The government can end this today - they don't need a court decision to do so," Kamalle Dabboussy told AAP.

His daughter Mariam and three grandchildren were among a group repatriated in October 2022, and he says despite each having a degree of trauma, they've settled in well.

From a volatile place where nutrition, education and healthcare were lacking, the women are co-operating with authorities and their children are being given the opportunity to live a normal life.

"My biggest concern with my grandkids now is what they want their next costume to be for school - Cinderella or Barbie," he said.

He has recognised the potential for communities to be concerned about the return of the women, sometimes referred to as ISIS brides.

Mariam travelled to the Middle East with her husband on a family holiday but got trapped when he was convinced to travel to Syria to fight and was killed months later.

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler
Mat Tinkler said he now has grave fears an innocent Australian child will die in the camps.

Mr Dabboussy believes the community at large want this to come to an end.

"The ridiculous situation we are in is that they will make their way back sooner or later and the longer they wait the more trauma they will have experienced, the more support they'll be requiring," he said.

"These kids - do you want them to come home when they're three or 23 - it makes no sense to me."

He expects the news to filter to the women in Syria through the day on Friday.

"We are going to be telling them, as we're telling the public, that we're going to pursue all options," he said.

Private discussions with the government had been ongoing but ceased during the legal action, launched in 2022.

He hopes now the case is over there may be an opportunity for more common sense discussions, and an opportunity to present facts.

Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler has grave fears an innocent Australian child will die in the camps waiting for action.

"Australia has shown in the past that they can do this. They've got the capability and the team set up to repatriate these citizens," he said.

"So we say don't wait, just get on and get the job done."

Human Rights Watch's Australian director Daniela Gavshon said only political will was stopping the government from acting.

She described the court's decision as a serious blow to families arbitrarily held in squalid and dangerous conditions.

"The court's rejection of this case … is devastating for these citizens who are in their fifth year of unlawful detention, further emphasising just how trapped they are," she said.