An Australian woman’s years-long search for her grandchildren ended in March, when she found them living in a sprawling refugee camp in Syria’s Kurdish northeast.
Karen Nettleton’s grandchildren were taken from Sydney to Syria in 2014 by their mother, Tara Sharrouf, who was intent on joining ISIS there. Sharrouf died in a Syrian hospital in 2015, orphaning her three children, Zaynab, Hoda and Humzeh. Since 2016, Nettleton has made three trips from her home in Australia to the Middle East in an attempt to bring home the three children, as well as two grandchildren, birthed by Zaynab in Syria after she was married to an ISIS fighter there at age 13.
Nettleton’s reunion with her children was filmed by Four Corners, an Australian TV news show.
Since locating them, Nettleton told the New York Times she is still awaiting word from the Australian government about how to bring them home. But she has so far received only vague promises of help from Australian officials, illustrating the complex dynamics of repatriating citizens — even children — who have become entangled with ISIS abroad.
For now, the five children remain in the refugee camp, where they are “not holding up well,” according to Nettleton.
“I won’t be coming home until I have those children,” she said. “I said that the last two trips but this one — there’s no way I’m leaving.”