Three-year-old Australian girl in Syria’s al-Hawl camp may lose fingers to frostbite | Australia news
The temperature has fallen consistently below zero this winter, snow has blanketed the camp, and many of the mattresses inside the tents where families live have become soaked with water and cannot be dried. There is a shortage of warm, dry clothes.
The blackened fingers on Amirah’s left hand (pictured above in December) have worsened since, and doctors believe it is likely they cannot be saved. She also suffers from pain in her kneecaps, and is suffering malnutrition.
Amirah’s five-month-old brother Yahya, who was born in the camp, is also malnourished. An older brother died before the family reached the camp.
Amirah’s mother is Melbourne woman Kirstie Rosse-Emile. Her father is Nabil Kadmiry, a former Isis fighter who had his Australian citizenship stripped last October. It is understood he also holds Moroccan citizenship. He is currently being held in a Kurdish jail.
Other Australian children in the camp are reported to be suffering developmental disorders, diarrhoea, seizures, rickets and asthma.
Across al-Hawl, where up to 70,000 women and children are guarded by Kurdish forces, conditions have grown steadily worse over winter. Food runs short, violence, including murder, is common, children die regularly from illness, and others have been injured when tents catch fire.
Many observers have raised concern it is acting as an incubator for extremism and, if left to languish, a potential site of resurgence for Isis.
Currently, there are 19 Australian women and 47 Australian children held in the al-Hawl camp. The Australian government is aware of their identities and the bona fides of their Australian citizenship or right to claim that citizenship.
They are family members of former foreign fighters who have been captured or killed. None of the Australian women in the camp have been charged as being combatants, and many were coerced, forced or tricked into travelling to Syria.
The youngest child in the Australian group is less than two months old, born on 30 November last year.
The families held in the camp have consistently pleaded with Australia to assist with their repatriation: the women in the camp have said they would submit to monitoring, such as control orders, if they were returned.
But the Australian government has consistently refused to repatriate its citizens, despite the urgings of Kurdish forces running the camp, its ally America, and other countries such as the UK, German, Denmark and France repatriating their citizens.
A small group of Australian orphans has been repatriated to Australia, but no family members with adults have been brought back since the Australians were taken to the camp a year ago.
The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, has said the government was not prepared to risk other Australian lives in any repatriation effort. He said some of the Australians in the camp were “hardcore” and “have the potential and capacity to come back here and cause a mass casualty event”.
“So I don’t think it should come as a surprise when we say we’re not going to send our soldiers to rescue people of this nature.”
On Sunday, Nine newspapers reported that Australian federal police had raided homes in Sydney and Melbourne of family members of those held in al-Hawl camp. It is the latest in a series of raids over months, which observers say is an attempted to gather evidence against anyone they believe may be planning to return to Australia.
The government has already stripped 17 dual nationals of Australian citizenship, preventing their return.
Save the Children’s director of international programs and policy, Mat Tinkler, told the Guardian it was “eminently possible” to repatriate citizens out of al-Hawl, as demonstrated by the steady flow of foreign women and children out of the camp. Kurdish forces have been taking foreign citizens to and across the Iraqi border, without the involvement of third country troops or diplomatic staff.
“It is eminently possible to repatriate these families, there is no practical barrier to it, all that is needed at the moment is the political will to do so,” Tinkler said.
He said the Australian families in al-Hawl were “just hanging on”.
“It’s really drastic there are the moment, it’s down to -3C in that part of Syria. We have seen a little girl who will likely lose her fingers because of frostbite, we see shrapnel wounds, we see mental health issues. It’s our very real concern an Australian child will die in that camp.”
Tinkler said every day spent in the camp was doing children harm.
“This is one of the worst places in the world to be a child. And Australia has an obligation to these women and children – these are Australian citizens at the end of the day. It’s no use Australia trying to disown them – there is no capacity for Turkish or Kurdish authorities to deal with these people. Australia needs to put trust in its own criminal justice system, in its social services, to be able to bring these people home and reintegrate them into Australian society.”
A recent report by an independent commission to the powerful United Nations Human Rights Council – of which Australia is a member – said nations around the world should repatriate their children from camps in Syria and should stop stripping citizenship from nationals caught up in the war.
The unflinching report details the indignities and punishments inflicted upon children during the Syrian conflict, including murder, torture, rape, arbitrary imprisonment, denial of food and water and of medicine, and forced conscription to fight.
It said counties of origin should “take immediate steps for the simplified registration of their nationals born in Syria with the ultimate aim to repatriate them and their caregivers as soon as possible”.
“Countries of origin should also refrain from stripping parents of their nationality in light of the impact on children.”
The report said “mothers should be repatriated along with their children to ensure adherence with the best interests of the child principle.”
Kamalle Dabboussy, whose daughter and three grandchildren are in the camp, said it was entirely predictable that children would suffer illness and injury in al-Hawl camp.
“The conditions are getting worse, and what we’ve said would happen is happening. There will be more injuries, more illness, and an Australian child may die.”