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Fate Of ISIS Children Remains Unclear After Grandmother's Emotional Reunion

Politicians are treading cautiously over questions about the fate of the Sharrouf children stuck in a Syrian refugee camp, as their grandmother tries to return them to Australia.

Zaynab, 17, Hoda, 16, and Humzeh Sharrouf, eight, are the surviving children of notorious Australian ISIS fighter Khaled Sharouf.

Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader condemned the actions of Sharrouf and his wife, who relocated their family to Syria.

Both were asked about an ABC Four Corners episode that documented grandmother Karen Nettleton’s emotional efforts to return them home -- but both steered clear of offering any details about how this would happen.

Karen Nettleton is reunited with her grandchildren in a Syrian refugee camp. Image: Four Corners / ABC

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was working “quietly behind the scenes” with the International Community of the Red Cross, but warned there were “a lot of hurdles”.

“There are a lot of hurdles to clear on this and Australians can be absolutely satisfied that we will follow those processes extremely closely,” he told Adelaide radio station 5AA on Tuesday.

“We're mindful of the fact that we're dealing with children and so what I’m not doing is getting drawn into any final decisions here at this point.

“We just take this process one step at a time.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten shared similar sympathies but said repatriation was “difficult”.

“We’ll work with the security agencies,” he told the Seven Network.

“I don’t hold the kids responsible for the mistakes of their parents, I think that’s the humane thing to do isn’t it?”

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

The collapse of ISIS in the Middle East has meant foreign fighters and their families are attempting to return to their home countries.

One of the more high-profile cases is that of the Sharrouf children who were taken to Syria in 2014 to join the Islamic State.

Sharrouf, his wife and their two eldest sons have since died, while Zaynab now has two daughters and is heavily pregnant.

Earlier this year, their grandmother tracked them down to the al-Hawl refugee camp in north-east Syria with those who fled Islamic State's latest enclave at Baghouz.

Kurdish-controlled al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria is dangerously overcrowded. Source: Getty.

After two failed rescue missions, the ABC followed her journey to the camp, documenting their emotional reunion. 

"This is surreal. I'm here," Nettleton said into 16-year-old Hoda's chest, kissing her.

"You're not dreaming, you're not going to wake up."

Hoda was 11 when she was taken to Syria.

She told the ABC she didn't know what was happening, and asked her mother to return home "every five seconds".

"I didn't know I was in Syria until, until after we crossed the borders and I heard people speaking Arabic, so that's when I was a little bit weirded out. I asked my mum where we were. And she told me we were in Syria. I started crying," Hoda said.

"I told her 'When the hell are we getting back home?'...  I thought we could get out whenever we wanted to. But you can't, once you get in you're stuck."

Greens leader Richard de Natale said he was moved watching Nettleton’s attempts to retrieve her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Speaking on Melbourne radio, he said Australian officials should follow suit.

“They should be stepping in and doing everything humanly possible to bring these children back to Australia,” he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten shared similar sympathies but said repatriation was “difficult”.

“We’ll work with the security agencies,” he told the Seven Network.

“I don’t hold the kids responsible for the mistakes of their parents, I think that’s the humane thing to do isn’t it?”

READ MORE: Why Australian ISIS Fighters, Spouses And Kids Need To Be Brought Home

READ MORE: What Happens When Islamic State 'Brides' Want To Come 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.

Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at Sydney University, earlier told 10 daily the reason for repatriating children is a “humanitarian” one.

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

He said every Australian citizen has a legal right to return to Australia under local and international law, but added many don’t have passports or money to do so and required government intervention.

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

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

Speaking to the ABC, Nettleton stressed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren pose no threat to Australians.

"Just because their last name is Sharrouf, doesn't mean they are monsters," she said.

"Are my children a risk to Australia? Absolutely not, absolutely not. No way."

Featured image: Four Corners / The ABC