'We'll be human shields' say Australians as Dutton rules out rescue


Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has ruled out bringing Australian women and children out of the al-Hawl camp in Syria in the short term, as Turkish forces prepare to invade and the women express fear that they will be caught up in the fighting.

As the former wives and children of IS fighters say they could be used as "human shields", Mr Dutton said that some of the 20 women trapped in the camp had been "as hardcore as the men" in support of Islamic State and were capable of mounting a "mass casualty event" in Australia.

The minister's comments came as one Australian mother texted a family member from the camp that the number of Kurdish guards was decreasing as they went to join the battle against Turkey.

It's clear from the messages that rumours are circulating in the camp.

"I'm thinking it's time to go somewhere and take cover before the ground war starts. Somewhere there is walls," the woman wrote in a series of text messages.

"I need to protect my children. I am being forced to make this decision. THIS IS NOT OK DO U UNDERSTAND.

"They're freaking coming to use us as human shields. They have built trenches around us. The Turks have told us to dig trenches and they are cutting off the net and cellular data.

"Turkish intelligence advises women to build trenches as the Kurds plan to take the ground war to the camp grounds using us as human shields.

"Kurds are saying they will start spraying the camp [with] bullets as soon as US pulls out and take revenge on us."

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have chosen not to identify the woman for her own safety.

Unconfirmed reports in Kurdish media suggested there was a riot and breakout at the al-Hawl camp overnight Australian time.

People wave as Turkish soldiers prepare to cross the border into Syria at Akcakale, Turkey.

People wave as Turkish soldiers prepare to cross the border into Syria at Akcakale, Turkey.Credit:Getty Images

The Australian representative of the families, Kamalle Dabboussy, said he believed the rioters were some of the Syrian women who live in a separate part of the camp from the former wives of foreign fighters, including Australians.

This made it an "increasingly dangerous position" for the Australian women to be in. In addition, helicopters and drones had been flying overhead.

"The women are noting the activity. They are scared" Mr Dabboussy said.

"We're also told the camp is about to close food and water supplies. The Australian women have no funds. They are destitute, really, so they're in a very difficult spot. Without any money to be able to buy from the black market, and the food and water stops being delivered to the camp, the outlook is very bleak."

Mr Dutton said the Australian government may ultimately bring some of the women and children home, but not the majority.

"I don't think it should come as any surprise to people when we say that we're not going to send our soldiers or our staff through the foreign affairs department or my department into harm's way to rescue people of this nature," he told 2GB Radio.

"Some of them," he said, had "the capacity and the potential to come back here to cause a mass casualty event".

"We're looking at individual cases, and in some cases it may make sense for us to intervene but in the majority of cases I think people realise that if you go into a war zone and you take your kids into a war zone that's a decision you've made as a parent.

The first group of Turkish infantry prepare to enter Syria.

The first group of Turkish infantry prepare to enter Syria.Credit:Getty Images

"The fact that you made a decision to destroy the lives of your children, that's something you'll have to live with, but my job is to protect kids back here and make sure that Australians are as safe as possible."

Mr Dutton also confirmed that three women had had their citizenship stripped under Australia's dual citizenship laws. Among them was Zehra Duman, who fled Australia as a teenager to marry an Islamic State militant and then became a social media spruiker for the so-called caliphate.

"The advice in relation to some of these women is, far from being dragged there by their husband or boyfriend, they've gone willingly and/or they are as hardcore as some of the male terrorists."

It's believed about 17 dual nationals have had their Australian citizenship stripped since 2015.

The Turkish push into Syrian territory against the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces came after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of his own forces, and said he would not intervene against the Turks.

ASIO, other security agencies and anti-terror experts have argued that leaving people and their children in a country such as Syria could increase the level of danger for Australians in the long term if they were radicalised and began recruiting Australians online using tactics honed by Islamic State.

Deakin University academic Greg Barton says Australia should bring the women back to face the justice system in this country.