IS children's welfare will be managed, government says

EXCLUSIVE

The Turnbull government has developed detailed plans to manage the return of as many as 70 children of Australian foreign fighters who may come home from the Middle East as the Islamic State's so-called Caliphate crumbles.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan told Fairfax Media the plan prioritises security but also looks at counselling, education and welfare and is being done "hand-in-hand" with the states, who would case-manage each child.

His remarks come amid what experts say is an exodus from the so-called Islamic State's defacto capital of al-Raqqa in Syria as it is squeezed by a US-backed collection of local Kurdish and Arab opposition fighters.

Mr Keenan said the government was aware of about 70 children who had either travelled with their Australian parents or have been born to Australian parents active in the conflict in Syria or Iraq.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan says government is aware of about 70 children who had either travelled with their Australian parents or have been born to Australian parents active in the conflict in Syria or Iraq. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Justice Minister Michael Keenan says government is aware of about 70 children who had either travelled with their Australian parents or have been born to Australian parents active in the conflict in Syria or Iraq. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

He said if these children came to Australia, "our agencies will first and foremost identify and mitigate potential security risks".

"Agencies then consider the welfare and support needs of the children - from counselling support through to their education needs," Mr Keenan said.

He said the federal government was working "hand-in-hand with state and territory authorities" and that the response involved "a full range of agencies and services from immigration right through to locally delivered social and community support services".

Anyone born overseas to at least one Australian parent has a right to citizenship, meaning the government may face applications from children in Syria and Iraq, though the Immigration Department declined to say whether it had received any such applications.

Australian former IS pin-up boy Neil Prakash, for instance, who was caught trying to flee through Turkey, has reportedly told his captors he had two children with a Dutch woman.

Jonathan Spyer, a Middle East expert with the Israel-based Rubin Centre, said that "it's clear from the numbers now being apprehended on the Turkish border that an exodus of foreigners from the Islamic State - both volunteer fighters and their dependents - is under way."

Security agencies say about 110 Australians are still fighting with terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. At least 65, and possibly as many as 82, have been killed.

Jacinta Carroll, a former security official now at the Australian National University, said reintegrating the children of foreign fighters required a delicate balance between keeping the general public reassured while protecting the children's privacy so they could re-establish lives away from extremist ideologies.

"There's a real tension between doing things in a way that's appropriate to deal with the trauma and the complexity of those cases and a demand by the public to know what's going on and to be reassured," she said.

"It's important to make it clear and explain to people that there are regimes in place."

This story IS children's welfare will be managed, government says first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.