Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday rejected an offer made by the United States to rescue and repatriate the Australian wives and children of ISIS fighters in Syria.
The US offered to help its coalition partners return captured foreign fighters, along with their families and the widows of ISIS fighters, but the Australian Government said their position has not shifted.
Mr Morrison told Australian media today the government’s “assessment is done on a case by case basis… and our assessments at this point have not changed”.
In early October Defence Minister Linda Reynolds declared the Australian government “will not jeopardise the lives of any other Australians” to help rescue the 20 Australian women and their 46 children in the Al Hol camp in northern Syria.
The minister made this announcement in response to the decision by the United States to withdraw troops from parts of Syria, allowing Turkish forces to move in.
Mr Morrison has also consistently argued Australian officials should not be placed at risk to attempt to remove the women and children from the conflict zone.
Asked why he rejected the offer, given the repatriation would not place Australian personnel in danger, the Prime Minister told local media: "I don't engage in hypotheticals on national security issues."
"National security issues are very serious and you have to deal with the cases as they present - not hypotheticals - but as they present in reality and that's how we'll deal with each and every one of them," he said.
Australian Professor of political science and international relations, Mark Beeson, told The National that it was "a bit embarrassing" for the Prime Minister to lose "his notional excuse for inaction".
"The continued refusal to help when someone else is doing the heavy-lifting looks mean-spirited and vindictive," he said.
Professor Beeson said the children are not to blame for their situation, and that it "wouldn't be too hard" for Australian authorities to monitor their mothers if they were repatriated to Australia.
Another Australian international relations expert, Professor Benjamin Reilly, told The National that the decision reflected "the realities of domestic politics in Australia".
“There is not a great deal of sympathy for most of them - the adults. Despite what they have said, they chose to go to Syria. There is a lot of sympathy for their children, and the government has taken steps previously to remove orphans from the area,” he said.
Professor Reilly added that repatriating the children would raise the issue of separating them from their mothers.
“It would have to be a diplomatic negotiation, rather than a military exercise… The key issue here is that the political reality is there is not a lot of enthusiasm for the government playing a role in removing these former (ISIS) partners,” he said.
Professor Reilly said another complication was the stranded ISIS families being “part of the bigger issue of Australia repatriating… some of the insurgents themselves who are now imprisoned in Syria and Turkey and elsewhere”.
“The Australian Government would prefer they stay imprisoned somewhere else,” he said.
In mid-October, two former partners of ISIS fighters sent audio messages to the Australian government asking for help.
In one message, the Australian mother of two young children sobs: "Until now Australia hasn't done anything for us."
"We understand the world has hate but we're asking just as regretful humans, don't let us fall into the hands of the regime, please," she said.