The wives and children of Islamic State fighters who are repatriated to Australia will return “to where they left from”, the federal government has said after a meeting with three western Sydney mayors.
The government won’t reveal exact locations, citing national security concerns, but the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, said it was not correct to assume they were all being settled in a particular place.
The Fairfield mayor, Frank Carbone, said it had been made clear at the meeting that western Sydney would not be used as a “dumping ground” for the former IS affiliates.
O’Neil said there was “a lot of misinformation” about where members of the group were being resettled.
“The people are coming back to where they left from,” she told reporters on Friday.
“We have thought about this very carefully. We have worked on this matter over a number of months.”
Cabinet colleague Chris Bowen, whose federal electorate of McMahon covers some of the mayors’ local government areas, said he only learned this year a similar resettlement had occurred in 2019 under the previous Morrison government.
“I was utterly kept in the dark. The mayors were utterly kept in the dark. The community did not know,” Bowen said, contrasting this with his government’s approach.
Carbone, along with the Liverpool mayor, Ned Mannoun, and the Campbelltown mayor, George Greiss, received a security briefing from O’Neil and Asio agents regarding the returnees on Friday.
“There’s no doubt it was an open and honest discussion,” Carbone said. “Hopefully they’ve learned a lot about … the concerns we have here in this region.
“The minister took on board … that the real victims are the refugees, those people who actually fled [IS].”
In October, the government repatriated four Australian women and 13 children who had been stranded in Syria’s Roj refugee camp since the defeat of IS.
None were being resettled in Fairfield, Carbone said.
“It’s clear to me after this discussion that western Sydney will not be used as a dumping ground,” he added.
“If the families [of the returnees] are in Melbourne, they will be repatriated in Melbourne. They will be repatriated in Perth and Queensland [if that’s where they travelled from].”
The talks on Friday come after the mayors told the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, there were community concerns about the returnees.
Their resettlement has raised fears that refugee communities in the area, such as Yazidis and Assyrians, who were targeted by IS, could be re-traumatised.
Mannoun said many recently arrived refugees from Iraq and Syria had fled the IS militia.
Cabinet minister Jason Clare said the former Coalition government had repatriated people from the camps to his Blaxland electorate, also in Sydney’s west.
Earlier this week, the Australian federal police commissioner, Reece Kershaw, confirmed investigations were under way into whether the returned wives had broken laws on travelling to war zones, including Syria.
The women had cooperated with police, he said.
IS was ousted in 2019 from the last of the territory it held across Syria and Iraq. At its peak in 2014, the group controlled large swathes of both countries.
The violent movement attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including Australian citizens, about 50 of whom were killed in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.