In Depth

Dozens of IS children could be resettled in Australia

Government draws up plan to reintegrate offspring of Australian militants

Dozens of children of Islamic State militants may be given a new life in Australia, under controversial plans unveiled by the country's government.

With a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias closing in on the terror group’s final strongholds in Iraq and Syria, thoughts are increasingly turning to what should be done with the children of the defeated militants.

More than 200 Australian men and women are believed to have travelled to Syria either as fighters or as “jihadi brides”.

Around 70 children of IS fighters either hold Australian passports or are eligible to apply for citizenship because they have at least one Australian parent, according to government estimates.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan told The Sydney Morning Herald that the government had drawn up a detailed plan to reintegrate any of these children who returned to Australia.

Keenan emphasised that public safety was the government’s first priority, but that their plans also addressed “counselling, education and welfare” programs to ensure the minors would be supported in readjusting to life outside the caliphate.

However, in some cases, the line between victim and perpetrator is disturbingly blurred, with high-profile instance of young children being encouraged to participate in the group’s atrocities.

In 2014, the seven-year-old son of Khaled Sharrouf, who left Sydney for Syria was pictured “holding up a severed head” for a propaganda photograph, the Daily Mail reports, while another photo showed Sharrouf and his young sons brandishing assault rifles.

The reintegration of children who have been indoctrinated with IS ideology and may even have committed atrocities on behalf of the group is likely to be a delicate and controversial task.

"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," Jacinta Carroll, a security expert at the Australian National University, told Fairfax.

Earlier this month, Unicef Australia's director of policy and advocacy, Amy Lamoin, spoke of a “balance of interests” when it came to protecting the public while also making it possible for the children to start a new life.

“If you look at children's lives, it's likely they had no choice in the matter,” she told the ABC. “They are first and foremost children before they should be considered a threat.”

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