An Australian mother has made horrifying claims of children being raped and murdered inside a Syrian detention camp as part of a desperate plea for the Government to help citizens who survived the fall of Islamic State to return home.
- The Australian mother laid out a series of horrifying claims from inside a Syrian detention camp in an open letter
- The woman claims children have been raped and murdered in the al-Hawl camp in north-east Syria
- She is pleading for the Australian Government to repatriate citizens stuck in the camp
The woman, who is stuck in the al-Hawl detention camp with three children aged from one to five, also said there have been decapitations inside the camp committed by a “mafia” who are targeting Australians.
The series of claims were sent in an open letter by the woman to her family via WhatsApp in mid-June in the hope of illuminating the reality for Australians in al-Hawl and obtained by the ABC last week.
The release of the letter comes amid growing frustration from the Australian families of about 60 women and children who remain in the Kurdish-operated camps, three months after the terror group lost its last remaining territory.
Despite citizens from the United States, France, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries being regularly repatriated, only eight Australians have been rescued from the camp to date, leading to concerns the Government is not taking their plight seriously.
The claims also come on the eve of Parliament resuming, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison hoping to urgently pass foreign fighter laws which could make it even less likely that some Australian citizens will be able to return.
The ABC has been told that the unidentified woman is from Western Sydney and says she was “coerced” by her husband to travel to Syria in 2014. He died soon after they arrived.
The woman made several attempts to return to Australia, her family say, but was effectively enslaved by Islamic State and prevented from leaving.
She has been in the al-Hawl camp — also known as al-Hol — since late March, and is an Australian citizen.
The ABC confirmed the authenticity of the letter but was unable to independently verify the claims, which include grave concerns around health, hygiene and safety inside the camp.
The aid agency Save the Children said it also could not verify the claims, but that other Australians within the camp had reported similar atrocities.
“It’s very consistent with the reports that we get from our staff operating across all three camps in northern Syria,” Paul Ronalds, Save the Children’s chief executive, said.
Other women in the camps have reported similar fears to their families in Australia.
But the camps are also awash with stories and misinformation.
It has been difficult for aid agencies and families to separate truth from rumours that have been passed from tent-to-tent, fuelled by a lack of communication with the outside world.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not directly respond to the ABC’s questions about the claims made in the letter, but said in a statement:
“Conditions within the camps are … at times dangerous.
“The Government continues to monitor the situation closely through our international humanitarian partners with access to the camps.”
‘Permissible to kill’ Australians in camp
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Women chant Islamic State slogans at the gates of al-Hawl.ABC NEWS
The sprawling al-Hawl detention camp in the north-east of Syria is home to more than 70,000 people, many of them women and children who chose or were forced to join the Islamic State group.
The ABC’s Four Corners gained rare access into the camp on three occasions in April and reported on the desperate conditions, calling it a “United Nations of suffering”.Do you know more about this story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the more than 2,000-word open letter paints an even graver picture.
“The Australian community is quite prominent here,” the mother says.
“We are recognised as permissible to kill as we do not share in their beliefs.
“They have an organised mafia who execute targeted attacks on women who fit the criteria. On numerous occasions, we have been warned that we were next.
“These women burn down tents filled with women and children in their sleep, steal money and gold, even decapitated women and children.”
Four Corners previously reported on the presence of an unofficial “ISIS mafia” of women inside the camp, who beat and harass others who do not follow a strict code of conduct.
Fears for children’s safety
The woman says toilets inside the camp are frequented by people who are attacking children.
The toilets themselves are “feral” and overflowing with faeces, scarce and far from the tents where they live.
“Lurking around them are strange people who have been attacking children,” she said.
“Little boys and girls have been raped and found dead in the past.”
She wrote that for safety reasons, her family now uses a bucket as a toilet inside their small tent, next to where they prepare meals.
She claimed the squalor of the camp has led to urgent health issues, but access to medical treatment is almost impossible.
“My five-year-old daughter has two large visible cavities which affects her diet and keeps her up at night,” she said.
“More importantly are the injured amongst us a six-year-old girl with a bullet wound to the neck … this family was advised by doctors to give up and access medical treatment in their country [Australia].
“There are women with untreated shrapnel wounds, the time frame of treatment is running out and now face permanent nerve damage, paralysation and even the amputation of limbs.”
The mother also outlined distressing concerns around the mental health of her children and the long-term effects of being in the camp.
“Symptoms of PTSD are clearly apparent in their day-to-day behaviour,” she said.
“They are soaked in fear of the possibility of soldiers whipping us with their belts, electrocuting with their tasers and shooting or hitting us with their guns as these are events they have witnesses [sic] far too many times in this camp, physical abuse, being stripped of clothing, being pelted with rocks.
“Other issues we face are the savage beating of children from other displaced children, a horror we face daily. They use rocks as a weapon, no-one is safe.”
Desperate plea to return home
The letter appeals to both the Government and Australians more broadly to help her family return home to Australia.
The call echoes the desperation felt by many families, who believe the Australian Government is taking too long to repatriate them despite the clear risks to their safety.
“I look at my broken life and my children and I feel anger at the reasons why they have been put in these situations I will never forgive or forget. It’s not their fault although they’re paying the highest price,” she said.
“We pray the world doesn’t turn a blind eye as we on the ground are being told by guards they plan to illegally send us to Iraq, or let us be sold as sex slaves to Iran.
“I’m an Australian — get me out of here.”
The letter asks Australians to contact their local MP.
“Let them know there are broken women and children that deserve safety,” she said.
Save the Children’s Mr Ronalds said the Federal Government had not reacted quickly enough to deal with its citizens after the fall of the so-called caliphate, despite the humanitarian and diplomatic emergency being signposted more than a year ago.
But he said he was confident the Government was working to try and secure the release of other Australians.
“Given the physical conditions in the camp, given the violence that’s in the camp and given this increased risk which these children and their mothers are now facing, we would say it is absolutely desperate that the Australian Government continue all of its efforts to get the remaining Australian citizens home,” he said.