Karl Stefanovich has criticized the federal government for a controversial plan to repatriate up to 60 Islamic State brides and their children from a detention camp in Syria.
Today The show’s host spoke to Minister for Public Services Bill Shorten on Tuesday morning about a dangerous mission that should cost taxpayers millions of dollars, amid fears that 16 women and 42 children could pose a permanent risk to society in Australia.
Successive governments have struggled with the bailout for years, and former Liberal leader Karen Andrews warned on Monday that she abandoned the mission when she was home secretary because of “unnecessary risk and huge cost.”
“Bill, it takes a certain amount of conviction to move overseas with your boyfriend and take part in the Islamic State wars. How do you think most Australians like it?” Mr. Shorten was asked about the Nine program.
“I think people want to make sure we are safe,” he replied.
“They want to make sure our national security is intact. This is a matter of national security. I don’t have much to add at this point, but I can only assure viewers that national security is the number one premise here. I mean, many of these kids are, of course, under six years old and have no say in what happened to them, but it’s a matter of national security… that’s our main consideration.”
2GB host Jim Wilson pressed, “I mean, it looks like it’s going to happen, but from the sound of it, when you’re talking about risk, and if national security is the number one priority, should this be happening?”
“Well, I suppose you can have a general argument,” Mr. Shorten said.
Stefanovich chimed in, “You don’t seem to agree with that?”
“No, not at all,” Mr. Shorten said.
“I have no sympathy for some of those guys who went there, no sympathy at all. But if you are a child under six years old, let’s not pretend that someone really asked them for permission or what happens to them, and if they are Australian citizens … Anyway, I see both points of view.
Stefanovich was adamant.
“I know you can, but I capture what you write,” he said. “I don’t think you would necessarily support it if you had the choice.”
The front bench insisted it supported this scheme.
“I just want to reassure people that it’s about national security first and foremost,” he said. “They will be considerations. Many of them are children under the age of six, so I’m not going to pretend that you are simply giving up Australian citizens under the age of six.”
Wilson agreed that it was a “difficult” issue with a “human side”, but Stefanović took a harder line.
“I understand that, but I think that if you make the decision to go abroad with someone and fight for the Islamic State, you make the decision as a family – there is no way you will be allowed to come back here.” he said.
“Again, I think this is a very, very difficult situation,” Wilson said. “We have children, women – who knows if they have become radicalized?”
Stefanovich insisted that families “make that decision when you leave the country when you’re going to fight”, rejecting Wilson’s claim that “some of them didn’t have a choice”.
What are you going to do, bring them back? Stefanovich said.
What are you doing with partners? [Do] are they coming back too? That’s the whole point. You set the precedent by saying, “Look, it’s okay, go and fight and someday you’ll be back.”
The federal cabinet’s National Security Committee will meet on Tuesday to formally approve a rescue plan that will return women and children from the Al-Roj detention camp near the Iraqi border, where they languish after the fall of the short-lived “caliphate.” three and a half years ago.
This came after a secret ASIO mission in a war-torn country gave the plan green light after a “risk assessment” of the group and their extended families in Australia, Australian reported this week.
Opinion polls have previously shown that the Australian public has little support for the repatriation of Islamic State families.
A 2019 newspaper poll found that 59 percent of voters opposed their return, compared to 36 percent in favor, with the strongest opposition among Coalition voters at 70 percent.
Labor voters were divided on the issue, with 50% in favor of their repatriation and 45% opposed.
On Monday night Projectformer ADF intelligence analyst Shane Healy host Carrie Bickmore asked if Australia is obligated to return them “even if there is a small risk”.
“Yes, 100%,” Healy replied.
“I don’t understand how we can take refugees out of Sudan, out of Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, and leave Australian citizens in such a terrible state.”
He added that the process could take months.
“They are going to take them to a host country somewhere in the Middle East and give them a holistic assessment – psychological, educational, medical – and it will take weeks and then slowly unpack whether it is an injury or any medical issues and then start create them to integrate back into Australia,” he said.
“Most young kids probably don’t even speak English and don’t have a formal education, so that’s going to be one of the processes.”
Presenter Walid Ali noted that deradicalization programs had a “sketchy” track record.
“I hate the term ‘de-radicalized’ because I think it’s on the extremist spectrum,” Mr. Healy replied.
“It’s not about radicalism or their religion, but their acceptance or use of violence. Most of these courses or programs failed because they tried to focus on religious aspects. I worked for Youth Justice NSW where we were very good at it. We targeted their willingness or consent to use violence to achieve their end state.”
Tricked into going to Syria
Kamal Dabbusi, whose daughter Mariam remains trapped in the camps with her three children, said there were signs of a breakthrough.
“It took us all by surprise. There was a wall of silence for a few weeks and it was different,” Mr Dabbousi told news.com.au.
Mariam Dabbousi worked in Sydney as a child care worker and helped migrants before she traveled to the Middle East with her husband and their 18-month-old child in mid-2015.
She later told four corners that her then-husband Kaled “tricked” her into going to Syria.
“If it wasn’t for him, none of us would be here,” she said.
After her first husband was killed in an airstrike, she was forced to remarry twice. Her second husband was killed when she was nine months pregnant.
“I mean, as it went on, we just realized that we had just been scammed by the boys,” she said.
Home Secretary Claire O’Neill warned that, given the sensitivity of the operation, she could not provide more details.
“The Australian Government’s top priority is to protect Australians and Australia’s national interests, as reported by the National Security Council. Given the sensitive nature of the issues involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further,” she said.
While some women went to Syria voluntarily, others were taken as teenagers and married to terror*sts who were under the age of consent.
Many children were born abroad and never attended school or received medical care in detention camps, where they were kept free of charge.
Widows, wives and children of dead or imprisoned combatants have been pleading for years to return to Australia after the fall of the Islamic State.
Many now say they were coerced or tricked into going to Syria, and even offered to be the target of anti-terrorism orders if they could return home.
Control orders that may be imposed on those who have trained or participated in the training of a listed terror*st organization may require the individual to remain in the designated premises for no more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period, wear a tracking device, report to someone at a certain time and place, as well as allowing yourself to be photographed and fingerprinted.
Earlier, Germany repatriated 91 citizens, France – 86, the United States – 26.
But Morrison’s previous government resisted calls to follow suit, warning that some of the women in the group would pose “a grave threat to the security of our country.”
Two years ago, then Home Secretary Peter Dutton warned women against returning home.
“These are not innocent women who brought their children to the theater of war,” Dutton said at the time.
Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler, who has been campaigning for the repatriation of women and children for years, supported any move to allow them to return home.
“For more than three years, these children have been locked up in one of the worst places in the world to be a child, and their situation is getting more and more desperate. I personally saw these conditions when I went to the Roj camp in northeastern Syria in June,” he said.
“Australian children are malnourished, suffering from untreated shrapnel wounds and the situation is affecting their mental health. They just hang. The possibility that they can finally return home to safety in Australia will be a huge boost for their families.”
– with Samantha Maiden
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