Karen Nettleton is trying t o bring the children of her late daughter Tara home. Picture: ABC 7.30
Karen Nettleton is trying t o bring the children of her late daughter Tara home. Picture: ABC 7.30

Terrorist’s kids deserve to be treated like Aussies

NEWS last week that Sydney grandmother, Karen Nettleton, was once more in Syria trying to secure the release of her surviving grandchildren and great grandchildren, who were born to Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, again raises questions about where and to whom the children of extremists belong.

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, revealed the Government was working with the Red Cross to get Sharrouf's children out, but that he would not "put any Australian life at risk to extract people from these conflict zones".

I don't think anyone was asking him to.

According to a report in The Age, head of foreign affairs for the Kurdish Administration that runs the Syrian camp many Australian children of IS fighters are living in, Dr Abdulkarim Omar said they could only return the children "when the Australian Government contacts us". Then, the administration is prepared to release "any other women and kids they request" but that the "countries should initiate dialogue with us."

Three of Khaled Sharrouf's children, Hoda, Hamzeh and Zaynab (pictured here in 2012), are stranded in Syria. Zaynab, now 17, is pregnant with her third child. Picture: Supplied
Three of Khaled Sharrouf's children, Hoda, Hamzeh and Zaynab (pictured here in 2012), are stranded in Syria. Zaynab, now 17, is pregnant with her third child. Picture: Supplied

A piece in The Australian, said there are at least 19 Aussie children living among the IS families in the camp that houses 73,000 people - 50,00 of which are children. Conditions are dire, dangerous and disease-ridden.

At least nine other countries, including Egypt, Indonesia, Russia and France have successfully repatriated hundreds of children in similar situations, yet despite repeated pleas for help from the Australian Government, until last Friday it was refused.

Fundamentally, this is because these are the families and children no one wants.

As Morrison once stated, "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, and joining the Daesh (IS) fight … I think it's even more despicable that they've put their children in the middle of it."

Few would disagree with that statement. There's little sympathy for the men and women who knowingly and cunningly depart their home nations to fight, kill, taunt and recruit for a terrorist organisation. Let them face the full consequences of their choices.

Karen Nettleton is fighting to have her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought back to Australia. Picture: Supplied
Karen Nettleton is fighting to have her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought back to Australia. Picture: Supplied

But, as Morrison also rightly asks, is it fair to let the sins of the parents be something innocent children have to suffer?

Of course not.

Caught in the crossfire of ideology, politics, religion, family, and nationhood, these kids are being punished for crimes their parents willingly committed and which, in many minds, it's feared they might grow up to as well.

They're being treated like miniature timebombs that may explode without warning. That if they're brought home, they'll become the enemy within.

Up until now, they were political hot potatoes, passed along swiftly.

We may dread what these kids represent, the trauma their parents have put them through and what it portends for their future and ours, but claiming, as Morrison has, that responsibility lies with "those who took them to this atrocious place" is to sidestep Australia's role.

As Australian citizens, these kids are our responsibility too.

Australian-born ISIS fighter Khaled Sharrouf is believed to have died in Syria with two of his five children. Picture: Supplied
Australian-born ISIS fighter Khaled Sharrouf is believed to have died in Syria with two of his five children. Picture: Supplied

Arguing we don't want to separate children from families is also a cop out. Bring the surviving parents back if we must and make them face the full weight of the law - at the very least, we know where they are.

Allowing the children to come home to Australia could be such a good outcome, a good story - not just for the kids, but the whole of society. Imagine showing these innocent, traumatised kids love and compassion without blame or the burden of guilt? Bringing them into the family-fold of the nation and offering them emotionally and psychologically healthy alternatives?

Is it a risk? Perhaps. But surely, as our government now recognises (or has been pressured into doing so) it's one worth taking. Investing in a positive, meaningful way in the kids' future rather than turning our backs and placing them in the "too hard" (politically) basket.

Zaynab and Hoda Sharrouf are asking to be returned home. Their brother Abdullah (centre) is believed to have died in Syria. Picture: Supplied
Zaynab and Hoda Sharrouf are asking to be returned home. Their brother Abdullah (centre) is believed to have died in Syria. Picture: Supplied

Are concerns they might grow up dysfunctional, anti-social criminals and/or radicalised and filled with rage justified? Possibly. But so do children whose parents have never been extremists or crooks - look at the Christchurch murderer, paedophiles, perpetrators of domestic violence and so on. But these kids might also take the lifeline being given them and use it to benefit themselves and others.

How a nation treats its most vulnerable and desperate says a lot of about its values and what it deems important.

These children had no choice in the decisions being made for them by their selfish, zealot parents. Our government did and it has chosen to help them. Let's hope they continue to do so not just by bringing them home, but also showing them where they can belong.

Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.

@KarenBrooksAU