Turkey pressures Australia to take back captured IS fighters, families

Australia
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Australia is facing pressure to repatriate captured IS fighters and families trapped in Syria on two fronts.

Turkey wants Australia to take back three IS fighters it has in custody as Ankara begins repatriating foreign fighters to their homelands.

The United States is also offering to extract Australian families of IS fighters that remain snared in Syria, an offer aid agency Save the Children says the Morrison government should immediately accept.

A Syrian militiaman holds up a captured banner of the so-called Islamic State after the militants were pushed out of Raqqa, northeast Syria.

A Syrian militiaman holds up a captured banner of the so-called Islamic State after the militants were pushed out of Raqqa, northeast Syria.

AP

Turkey has so far sent up to 10 fighters back to Britain, the US and Germany, saying it cannot continue to house them.

The Australians are among 959 foreign IS fighters and families in Turkish custody in northern Syria.

Turkey’s ambassador to Australia Korhan Karakoc told The Weekend Australian Ankara wants Canberra to coordinate the return of the men, but said the Australian government was reluctant to take the men back.

The Australian government said in a statement, it did not comment on “individual cases”.

Turkish soldiers, with pro-Turkish Syrian paramilitaries during Turkey’s recent offensive into Syria.

Turkish soldiers, with pro-Turkish Syrian paramilitaries during Turkey’s recent offensive into Syria.

DHA

The newspaper said efforts were underway to repatriate “a few” suspected Australian IS prisoners, whom Mr Karakoc was unable to identify.

“Turkey, at this stage, is not in a position to take a unilateral step because we have to coordinate, at the end of the day,” he told the newspaper.

Australian women and children at the al-Hawl camp are facing increased risk.

Australian women and children at the al-Hawl camp are facing increased risk.

AAP

“It really requires some formalities. The Australian side should be willing to accept them.”

Separately, in an interview with the ABC, counter-terrorism ambassador at the US State Department Nathan Sales said all countries have a responsibility to take back their citizens and is offering to help.

Ambassador Nathan Sales speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington.

Ambassador Nathan Sales speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington.

AP

While the Australian government has so far repatriated a group of orphans, it argues a mission to pull out the remaining women and children would be too dangerous.

Mr Sales said the US has previously used its military to extract fighters and families that are its own citizens.

Asked if he had made the offer to do the same for Australia, Mr Sales said: “I’m not going to get into private diplomatic negotiations … but we have made offers to all our coalition partners.”

He said the US and many other countries believe it is appropriate to have these people prosecuted in their own national courts.

“We have been encouraging countries that don’t see it the same way to take their folks back and prosecute them,” Mr Sales said.

Mat Tinkler, director of policy at Save The Children.

Mat Tinkler, director of policy at Save The Children.

AAP

“Leaving these folks in camps in the desert or ad hoc prison facilities, it’s not going to solve the problem, it’s just going to kick the can down the road.”

There are around 60 Australian women and children being held in camps in Northern Syria.

Save the Children director of policy and international programs Mat Tinkler welcomed the US offer.

“The Australian government should take responsibility, immediately accept this offer and bring the Australian women and children home,” Mr Tinkler said in a statement.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

AAP

“The Australian government has run out of excuses not to repatriate its citizens.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has previously been adamant the Morrison government won’t be returning women or children, let alone foreign fighters.

With AAP…

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