‘Bring them home’: One man’s campaign to get IS brides back to Australia
This bloke clearly has some very deep mental issues.
Kamalle Dabboussy with his daughter Mariam Dabboussy (right) and her daughters Aisha (left) and Fatema in al-Hawl camp in north-eastern Syria.
For four years, says Kamalle Dabboussy, the federal government has been saying the same thing to the Australian families of women and children living under Islamic State: “Stay quiet, don’t talk. It’s better for you and your family not to talk.”
This week Dabboussy and his daughter Mariam spectacularly broke that long silence. She and her three young children are among the 66 Australians – 20 women and 46 children – who are trapped in the squalid al-Hawl camp in Syria after spending the past five years in the so-called Islamic State. Kamalle has become the spokesman for most of that group. And he is worried about them.
“If nothing is done, there will be Australian deaths in that camp this [northern] winter,” the Sydney man told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald after also appearing on the ABC’s Four Corners. “And as a parent, someone emotionally involved, I’d suggest the government’s recommendations that we stay quiet had nothing to do with the protection of the women and children there.”
He wants the families back in Australia. So do humanitarian agencies such as Save The Children. Al-Hawl has 70,000-plus former IS families crammed into tents. The conditions are bad and getting worse. This week a riot broke out, driven by female IS hardliners who now appear to be armed. The Australian women and their children cowered in their tents on Wednesday morning as bullets flew. At least one woman – not an Australian – is said to have died. Reports have since suggested that some women escaped the camp and are rumoured to have joined sleeper cells outside.
The riot sent the camp into lockdown and by Thursday the women and their children – sweltering in tents at more than 40 degrees – were rationing their last bottles of water. “We rrunning [sic] out of food and wter even money is not being exchanged anymore,” said a desperate text message from one of the women on Thursday morning, Australian time. “We need ice. we’re dying.”
Reports say at least 255 children have died in the camp since January. One of the Australian children, says Dabboussy, is two years old and fits into clothes made for a three-month-old baby.
By contrast he says the men who did the fighting are being treated as prisoners of war under Geneva Convention standards, living in buildings with showers, three meals a day, welfare checks, Red Cross visits and even air conditioning.
In the camp, food and water deliveries were reopened on Thursday night. But the longer-term dangers for the women and children are just as life-threatening. Winter temperatures plunge well below zero, with snow and howling winds. Health care is inadequate. Hardline IS adherents are enforcing cruel, sometimes fatal, punishments on those they see as waverers. And at 5pm every night, the Kurdish militia which runs the camp, the Syrian Democratic Forces, leave it unguarded and in the hands of its inmates.
“In the last few days I’ve written to government on more than one occasion saying that it’s getting worse,” Dabboussy said. “Bodies have been turning up decapitated, mutilated, the situation is deteriorating.”
The response from the government? “I get acknowledgments.”
‘I think it’s despicable’
The former brides of Islamic State are not a popular cause, and nor are their children. “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 [Islamic State] fight,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison on April 1. “I think it’s even more despicable that they put their children in the middle of it.”
Islamic State’s bloodthirsty “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria sucked in tens of thousands of foreign fighters globally, including hundreds from Australia. Some were no doubt exposed to war, trauma and beheadings. Not wanting them back is probably a majority position in Australia. “They turned their backs on Australia and are now trying to get back because it’s all turned pear-shaped – sorry, learn to live with your decisions,” said one commenter on an Age and Herald story this week.
Others question the right to citizenship of children born to Australian mothers overseas. The citizenship law is clear that they are “eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent”.
But Morrison has proved at least somewhat flexible on the question of returns. Earlier this year his government authorised the rescue of one group. Having said he was “not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people”, he sent a senior Australian bureaucrat to Syria to negotiate their release.
Since then, despite a government statement this week saying they were “concerned about the health and safety of those in the camps”, there has been no further attempt at returns. The Home Affairs department is pushing ahead with legislation to remove Australian citizenshipfrom dual citizens who went to Syria and Iraq. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on ABC Radio that repatriation was “very, very difficult” and the area “highly dangerous and unstable”.
“We are delivering on Australia’s expectations … to support them in place,” Payne said of the women and children in al-Hawl, before appearing to contradict herself by saying “we are assessing each of those cases [for returns] on their merits”.
Dabboussy says any “assessment” process has not involved the women in al-Hawl. They have heard nothing directly and no interviews have been conducted.
He says the women are prepared to face punishment for any crimes they have committed, but if it’s a question of assessing their actions the government has all the information it needs. With the help of their “Five Eyes” security partners, Australian authorities know much more than they have ever publicly revealed, Dabboussy says, and they have been amassing information for years.
“The intrusive questioning of the families in Australia started in 2014 and is ongoing,” Dabboussy says. “In mid-2014, when my daughter went missing, the first I knew was a knock on the door from law enforcement saying she was in Syria and had been coerced into going. They knew all about it.
“One man was stopped and searched at the airport when he got back from an overseas trip six months ago – his daughter had been deceased for about a year.”
Dabboussy believes that any reluctance by the government to bring these women and children home is due to a lack of political will, not a lack of information.
‘You have to take them back’: Trump
No. Absolutely not. Let them rot.
Archie Law is the humanitarian director of Save The Children, one of the key humanitarian agencies working with the Australian government. He says their communications with authorities amounted to little more than “information exchange”. Asked if the government was actively assessing women and children for return, he says: “I don’t see the evidence that anything is really moving.”
Law says it is not difficult to move people out of al-Hawl. The United States and other governments have been doing so. This part of Syria is now “stable within an overall country in conflict” and the camp’s administrators are enthusiastic about repatriating people to the West.
“When the Australian government contacts us, we will give those kids to them and any other women and kids that they request,” said Abdulkarim Omar, the head of foreign affairs for the Kurdish administration earlier this year.
“The main thing,” says Law, “is to get them out as soon as possible. It’s really dangerous to leave people in there … These camps are not fit for children and they shouldn’t be paying for the actions of their parents who have taken them into this place.”
If the Morrison government needed further encouragement, Donald Trump provided it. In a statement at the beginning of Morrison’s recent meeting with the US President, Trump said that European countries “have to take [foreign fighters] back or I’m going to set them loose at your border”.
It was a point that could as easily have been directed at Australia. The US administration has returned repeatedly to the point. The US acting undersecretary for civilian security, Nathan Sales, said last month, “we are deeply concerned about [the Kurdish forces’] capacity to detain this massive population indefinitely. Critically, we seek to prevent seasoned fighters from returning to the battlefield”.
Asked this week about Trump’s statement, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office issued a statement that did not address the question. Morrison’s office referred to Dutton’s statement.
Showing their faces to the world
In the attempt to shift the political debate in their favour, two women in al-Hawl took a big risk: Mariam Dabboussy and Nesrine Zahab lifted their veils to reveal their faces for the ABC’s cameras. They spoke in their broad Australian accents to claim they had been tricked into going to the “caliphate” and had desperately wanted to escape it.
The move to go public could put them in danger from hardline women in the camp who call themselves Hisba – a term used in Islam for accountability to sharia. These women still adhere to IS doctrine and do not like any deviation from the cause. But Mariam and Nesrine know they need to show Australians that they are fellow citizens fallen into terrible trouble.
Dabboussy insists that most of the women were tricked into going to Syria and the rest went to accompany their husbands. He says the men of IS were offered financial and other rewards to recruit women. Their own mothers, who granted credibility to the “caliphate”, were worth the highest reward, followed by young women – some as young as 14 or 15. They were married off immediately, impregnated, set to domestic duties and then passed to another husband and another as the men were killed in combat. Men who could afford it also had sex slaves.
No sane person other than hardcore Mohammedans goes on jihad. They were not “tricked”.
“It was men and boys with power and the ability to have multiple wives and not have any responsibility as a result … it was ‘I can get away with that’,” Dabboussy says. All the Australian women tried to escape, some multiple times, once they realised what they had let themselves in for.
“They were not gun-toting, card-carrying members of IS. They did not give allegiance,” Dabboussy says.
The difficulty for the Australian authorities confronting these stories is to prove otherwise for the purposes of any criminal prosecution. Getting hard evidence of what went on in Islamic State’s “caliphate” is diabolically difficult.
But the women’s lawyer, Sarah Condon from Stary Norton Halphen, argues the government has “compellable legal duties to repatriate the women, firstly as a duty to protect them, and secondly as a duty to investigate crimes in which they are said to be either victims or perpetrators, including terrorism, sexual servitude or trafficking”.
The government has rejected this view.
Terrorism expert Greg Barton from Deakin University says the question of repatriating these women and children is a “difficult, if not a wicked problem”, which has become the subject of an internal, “tough-on-crime” debate between the right and left wings of the Liberal Party.
He says Australia has laws sufficient to handle returning women. They include the ability to impose virtually any condition on them under the Temporary Exclusion Order legislation, or to imprison them simply for travelling to and living in IS territory.
What bullshit! Why make Aussie taxpayers foot the bill for these unassimilable, hateful savages?
He also points out ASIO’s submission to an inquiry on legislation designed to strip Australian citizenship from dual citizens, which is currently before Parliament. That submission warns that leaving some of these people without citizenship overseas “may also have unintended or unforeseen adverse security outcomes“.
“To the extent these people have links with Australia, there is every chance they’ll be used to recruit people in Sydney and Melbourne, via social media, and they’ll have a very powerful back story,” Barton says. “It would be a pity if we didn’t do anything to prevent this because of a petty inter-party squabble about who is the toughest.
“That is not the way to do national security.”
So keeping them out does not make us more secure than bringing them back? What kind of warped & twisted reasoning is that?