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Australia’s Isis brides

Australia’s Isis brides

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A secret mission by the Australian government has paved the way for 16 women and 42 children currently held in a Syrian detention camp to be repatriated. Why is the policy shift so significant for the UK?

“It started off as a normal holiday, my husband had never left the country at the time so it was the first time he agreed to take me overseas.”

Mariam Dabboussy speaking to ABC

This is Mariam Dabboussy talking to ABC…

“So we had a really nice holiday planned. We went to Malaysia, he took me to Dubai, we went to Lebanon…”

Mariam Dabboussy speaking to ABC

In 2015, her husband, Kaled Zaheb, took her on holiday, travelling through a number of countries before finally ending up in Turkey.

Syria’s Civil War had just started and her husband insisted they went to the Syria-Turkey border to help his relatives escape. 

But when they got to the border, the mood changed.

***

Held at gunpoint, Mariam was forced into Syria with her 18-month baby by her husband and brother-in-law, who was involved in bringing Australian recruits into Syria to join the militant group.  

“Basically he had concocted a plan, and they just thought it was the right place for us to be, and he knew we would have never agreed, and we would never have wanted to send our kids there.”

Mariam Dabboussy speaking to ABC

Once they arrived, her husband was quickly taken to an Isis training camp… but three months later, he was killed in an airstrike. 

At the time, Mariam was nine months pregnant with their second child.

After trying to escape, she was forced to remarry.

“When Kaled got killed, I had to get remarried so I chose somebody that was actually working in a hospital because I thought it was better than the other options”

Mariam Dabboussy speaking to ABC

She had her third child with her new husband but he was killed fighting too.

And then, Mariam was forced to marry again.

***

Since she left Australia, Mariam’s father has been campaigning for his Sydney-born daughter and her children to be repatriated from the detention camp in northeast Syria. 

But for years, the Australian government claimed it wasn’t safe.

“The government has remained firm in its stance on bringing home 28 women and 46 children saying it’s unsafe for Australian forces to enter the region.”

Sky News Australia

“Australian women being held in Syrian refugee camps are renewing their pleas to be brought home.”

Sky News Australia

That was until Anthony Albanese became prime minister. 

Officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO, secretly travelled to Syria to make sure it was safe to bring the 16 women and 42 children home.

“Islamic State brides repatriated from detention camps in Syria will be detained immediately on arrival in Australia. 16 women are expected to face court for the purpose of making a terrorism control orider. The women are reported to have all agreed to submit to the order.””

Sky News Australia

In exchange for their repatriation, the women have agreed to be placed under strict security conditions. They’ll be under a curfew, have restricted social circles and they’ll likely be banned from accessing social media. 

But the significance of Australia’s change in policy goes beyond its own borders. It puts pressure on the UK too.

“French authorities have repatriated 16 women and 35 children from detention camps in Syria in areas previously controlled by the so-called Islamic state.”

News clip

“Two American women and six children with ties to Isis are being sent back to the US from Syria. They’re among thousands of foreigners who have been held in various detention camps in the country.”

News clip

“Germany and Finland have repatriated 23 of their nationals, mostly women and children, from Syria. Some of them were under criminal investigation for allegedly belonging to the Islamic State terror group.”

WION News

The past year has seen the United States, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and France repatriate women and children of IS fighters from Syria.  

And now Australia has joined that list as well, leaving Britain as the outlier. 

The al-Roj camp where Mariam was living houses some of the 60 or so British women and children who say they’ve been abandoned by the UK government.

The majority have been stripped of their citizenship.

“Shamima there is already furious reaction to your presence on the programme and I’ll tell you the reason why. Because when someone goes to join Isis they are considered a terrorist. Is that a fair description of you?”

Susanna Reid, Good Morning Britain, ITV

“I was groomed and taken advantage of and manipulated into coming… I would rather die than go back to Isis.”

Shamima Begum, Good Morning Britain, ITV

Ever since a journalist tracked her down in 2019, Shamima Begum has been campaigning to come home. 

In September, a BBC investigation found that she was smuggled into Syria by a Canadian double-agent.

“Shamima Begum left London along with two friends when she was 15. She met the agent Muhammad al-Rasheed at a bus station in Turkey in 2015….”

BBC News

An appeal hearing is due in November and Shamima Begum’s lawyers hope this latest revelation, that she was trafficked by someone working for one of Britain’s allies, will help her win. 

That, along with Australia’s change in tack, will put more pressure on the UK to bring its women and children home. 

This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.


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