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Syria: Seventeen Australian women and children repatriated from refugee camp

Home affairs minister says 'extensive support services' being provided to help the group reintegrate into Australia
The women and children left the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria on 27 October and crossed into Iraq to board a flight home (File pic/AFP)

The Australian government has repatriated four Australian women and their 13 children from a Syrian refugee camp, Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said on Saturday.

The repatriations to New South Wales state, which have been criticised by the Liberal-National opposition, is part of bringing back from Syria dozens of Australian women and children who are relatives of dead or jailed Islamic State (IS) fighters.

Australia took eight children and grandchildren of two dead IS fighters from a Syrian refugee camp in 2019, but it has held off repatriating any others until now.

"The decision to repatriate these women and their children was informed by individual assessments following detailed work by national security agencies," O'Neil said in a statement.

The women and children left the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria on Thursday afternoon and crossed into Iraq to board a flight home, the Sydney Morning Herald and state broadcaster ABC reported on Friday.

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The Labor-led government's focus has been on the safety and security of "all Australians" and those involved in the repatriations, O'Neil said, adding the government had "carefully considered the range of security, community and welfare factors in making the decision to repatriate".

The repatriations follow similar moves by the United States, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain and Canada, O'Neil said.

'Extensive support services'

Local media previously reported that some women may be charged with terrorism offences or for entering Syria illegally.

"Any identified offences may lead to law enforcement action being taken," O'Neil said, adding that New South Wales was providing "extensive support services" to help the group reintegrate into Australia.

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has labelled the move as not in the country's best interest, saying the women have mixed with "people who hate our country, hate our way of life".

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters he would not discuss details of the group's case but said he was following national security advice.

"The Australian government will always work to ensure that people are kept safe here in Australia, that is our priority," he said, according to an official transcript of his remarks in Griffith, New South Wales.

On Wednesday, Canadian police said they had arrested two women, charging one with "terrorism-related offences", after they were repatriated to the country from a detention camp in Syria.

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