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Why Australian ISIS Fighters, Spouses And Kids Need Be Brought Home

While it may be difficult to summon sympathy for Australian men and women who travelled abroad as ISIS supporters and fighters, experts say there's a moral and legal responsibility to bring them to justice on our soil.

When it comes to children, the reason for repatriating them is on humanitarian grounds, according to Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at Sydney University.

"These children are innocent, they cannot be blamed for the actions of their terrorist parents, they are victims," Saul told 10 daily.

READ MORE: Grandmother Tries To Bring Pregnant Daughter Of ISIS Fighter Back To Australia

Khaled Sharrouf has been dubbed the 'Australian face' of ISIS and took his children to Syria. IMAGE: Twitter.

The Australian Government has said it will not risk Australian lives trying to help Australian citizens in Syria.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to have softened his stance, telling the ABC on Friday that Australia is working with aid agencies in Syria.

"In the case of [Australian] children, who are the innocent victims of those who took them into this atrocious place … we will do what I think Australians would expect us to do on their behalf," Morrison said.

 READ MORE: ISIS Likely To 'Resurge' Without 'Sustained Pressure': Pentagon

What About Australian Adults Who Joined And Fought For ISIS?

"Every Australian citizen has a legal right to return back to Australia under our local as well as international laws, but many don't have passports or money so they need government intervention," Saul said.

He added that Australia has an obligation and the capacity to prosecute people for their international war crimes.

Why should it be the responsibility of under-equipped and under-resourced rebels who don't even have a state to deal with them?

"These are Australian terrorists that we produced, we need to bring them home and put them before the courts."

Saul said it's "perfectly possible" for the Australian government to negotiate with Kurdish, Syrian or Iraqi authorities to transfer citizens back to Australia. He said most are registered with international aid agencies.

"In 2006 during the conflict between Hamas and Israel, [then Prime Minister] John Howard evacuated thousands of Australians. It can be done, he did it during an active war," he said.

He noted that despite the government stripping 12 dual citizens of their passport -- for actions contrary to their allegiance to Australia -- most Australians in the Middle East only hold one passport.

Lebanon 2006. Crowds of Australians gather in downtown Beirut, near the central mosque. IMAGE: Getty Images
Security Outcome Is 'A Choice Between Bad And Worse'

In February, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said it is “vital for our national security that we deal with Australians who travelled to the conflict zone in Iraq and Syria as far from our shores as possible”.

But Lydia Khalil, research fellow at the Lowy Institute, told 10 daily this is a "false assumption".

"It's not that simple, none of the options is without risk," Khalil said.

She acknowledged the security risk of those returning home radicalising other Australians in prison, but argued our justice and intelligence systems are  sophisticated enough to monitor it.

"The detention centres in Iraq, for example, don't have the same checks that we would have in Australia, in that they can't house the individuals separately," she said.

She says revoking citizenship simply gives additional fodder for radicalisation.

"It sends the message: 'look at what your own countries of citizenship have done to you, they have abandoned  you and the Islamic State is the only one that looks out for Sunni Arabs'," she said

Khalil is also wary of the so-called ISIS brides.

"I hate that term ISIS bride, I think it diminishes their role in the organisation. A lot of these women had broader roles than just to be wives or mothers and they actively recruited people," she said.

READ MORE: Australian-Born ISIS Member Sentenced To Jail In Turkey

READ MORE: Syria Is The World's Test Of Humanity. We Are Failing.

What Are Other Countries Doing?

US President Donald Trump has urged countries to take back their nationals, rather than have them released in Syria to potentially cause more trouble in the future.

Hundreds of families have been repatriated to countries like Russia and Turkey.

In March, France -- facilitated by Kurdish officials -- reportedly brought home five orphaned children born to French jihadists, and said it would accept a further 130 French children.

In a different move,  MPs in Denmark are expected to pass legislation stripping away the citizenship rights of children born overseas whose Danish parents supported ISIS.

Shamima Begum went to Syria to get married. Image: Getty Image

In March, the baby of British teenager Shamima Begum, 19, died at a Syrian refugee camp.

Begum had travelled to Syria to join ISIS as a 15-year-old. Earlier this year, she said she wanted to return home, but the UK government refused and her British citizenship was revoked.

Morrison said counter-terrorism legislation before Parliament, if passed, would allow the Government to manage the return of any families from the region through a parole-like scheme.

The bill also allows the Home Affairs Minister to make an order preventing an Australian citizen 14 years and older from entering Australia for up to two years.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au