State authorities in Victoria and NSW are preparing to reintegrate eight Australian orphans evacuated from the Syrian conflict zone in a secret operation organised by the Australian government.
Officers from the education, health and community services departments of NSW and Victoria, along with senior members of the state’s police force, have been working for months on a management plan to resettle the children.
Those plans will now accelerate with the first family group, that of slain Bosnian fighter, Yasin Rizvic, likely to be home within weeks, if not days.
The Australian revealed today that eight Australian children, including the offspring of notorious Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, have been evacuated from a Syrian refugee camp in a highly secret operation.
In what amounts to the first organised return of Australians from the conflict zone, the children were collected by staff from a local aid agency, and driven overland into a coalition-controlled area of Iraq. The Australian has been asked to withhold the exact location of the children’s final destination for security reasons.
It was the first stage in a long journey that will involve them being flown through transit hubs in the Middle East and elsewhere, then home to Australia where state authorities — and the community — will begin the challenging task of reintegrating broken and traumatised children into the society their parents abandoned.
The team’s foremost concern will be establishing custody arrangements for the children.
In the case of the five children and grandchildren of Sharrouf, it is expected to they will remain in the care of their grandmother, Sydney woman Karen Nettelton, who for five years has spent tens of thousands of dollars and waged a ceaseless campaign to bring them home.
In the case of the three children of Rizvic and his wife, Fauzia Khamal Bacha, who is also dead, the situation is murkier.
The children, who are aged between six and 12, have little family in Australia, raising the possibility they may go into state care.
In all cases, authorities are anticipating the children will need high level, ongoing medical, psychological and possibly financial support.
One of the Sharrouf children, 17-year-old Hoda Sharrouf, was reportedly wounded by gunfire in Syria and is now lame.
Eighteen-year-old Zaynab Sharrouf, Khaled’s eldest, already has two young children sired by Islamic State fighters, both of whom are now dead, and is heavily pregnant with her third.
Among the questions being decided by state authorities are whether or not the children will need to be given new identities, whether they can attend a normal school or whether they must be home schooled and whether they can continue to live in their old neighbourhoods.
The Australian understands consideration has been given to giving new identifies to the kids and relocating them out of Sydney or Melbourne, where the Rizvic children lived before their parents took them to Syria.
But in the case of the Sharrouf children, whose faces have been plastered across media and social media sites for years, such a move would seem futile.
There are thought to be about 70 Australians in limbo in northern Syria, the overwhelming majority women and children.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking in Perth today, said the government had carefully considered their cases and would consider others.
“They can’t be held responsible for the crimes of their parents,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“That you would take a child and put them in a conflict zone like this is despicable and I find it disgusting.” The children would be given support, he said.
“They’ve got off to a horrible start in life as a result of the appalling decisions of their parents. They’ll find their home in Australia and I’m sure they will be embraced by Australians and as a result of that embrace, I’m sure they’ll live positive and happy lives.”