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Australian Current Affairs

Syria war combatants to be shut out of Australia


Syrian rebels in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, listen attentively to a trainer showing them how to use a rocket launcher as the civil war escalates across the country

Syrian rebels in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, listen attentively to a trainer showing them how to use a rocket launcher as the civil war escalates across the country

Australian citizens who fight in the Syrian civil war may be shut out of the country, after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison flagged a renewed push to prevent them returning home.

Mr Morrison yesterday said an influx of rebel and pro-government militants from the Middle East could “disrupt the significant social cohesion we have in this country”.

“We are keeping a very close eye on this, a very close watch, and I’ve had consultations before the election where Islamic communities in Australia have raised this with me, in particular people returning, that they wouldn’t want to see a return,” he told Sky News.

Intelligence agencies believe about 200 Australians have joined the war effort in Syria, supporting either the country’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, from the Shi Islam-aligned Alawite sect, or the predominantly-Sunni rebels who have fought to topple the government since March 2011.

Some militants in Syria also have anti-Western agendas, such as the al-Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of al-Qa’ida.

Former army chief Peter Leahy said yesterday that dual Australian-Syrian citizens should be prevented from returning here after fighting in Syria’s civil war.

“How can you be an Australian, go off and fight in Syria, in some cases for al-Nusra who are linked to al-Qa’ida, and then come home?” he told Sky News.

On Sunday former foreign minister Bob Carr said he had wanted to ban the Australian fighters in Syria from re-entering Australia, but said he was told such a move could be illegal.

Intelligence agencies believe that as many as 200 Australians have gone to war-torn Syria and that up to half of these may be involved with al-Nusra, which is considered the most militant and radical of the rebel groups.

Mr Carr on Sunday said he lobbied “at a senior level” to block Australian citizens returning after fighting in Syria, but was advised “that if they’re Australian citizens legally you can’t stop them returning”.

“It is a breach of Australian law and I think it should be punished by an exclusion from Australia and I’d urge the Abbott government to explore whether that can happen,” Mr Carr told Sky News.

The 200 Australians also include people offering humanitarian aid, or fund raising for the rebels, Mr Carr said.

Mr Morrison said he expected bipartisan support to prevent their return.

“I’m sure there’d be broad-based support across parliament to ensure that these sorts of things were not imported back into Australia,” he said.

Melbourne University international relations expert David Malet told ABC Radio that Australia should closely monitor returning militants, rather than leaving them “floating out there on a global stage” to become “a perpetual problem”.

“The biggest danger is really they come home as recruiters,” Dr Malet said.

“Most people don’t simply buy a plane ticket and go off by themselves. They are part of a broader community group, they interact with others online through their mosques and community institutions.”

The Australian – Morrison flags move to shut out Australian veterans of Syrian war
 
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