Australian grandmother, Karen Nettleton never imagined she would be waiting an excruciating five years, two months to be reunited with her three surviving grandchildren and two great grandchildren inside a Syrian refugee camp.
She never imagined that her beloved daughter Tara would be brainwashed by her terrorist husband Khaled Sharrouf, jointly making the decision to move to an Iraq war zone in 2014 and join ranks of Islamic State (IS) with their children.
She never imagined that the same daughter would shortly thereafter die from a preventable illness, nor that her two eldest grandsons and evil son in law would be killed in an airstrike.
She could never have imagined that her beautiful, eldest granddaughter would be forced into marriage age 13 and bear two children with a third on the way by the time she was just 17.
But all this did take place. An unbearable nightmare for a suburban grandmother who vowed never to give up.
The experience of Karen Nettleton’s traumatic pursuit to recover her daughter and grandchildren from Islamic State (IS) aired last night on Four Corners. The film crew accompanied Nettleton on her third rescue attempt three weeks ago to recover her two eldest granddaughters, Zaynab and Hoda, her youngest grandson Humzeh and Zaynab’s two toddlers, Aiesha and Fatimah.
The journey was perilous and desperate– much the same as Nettleton’s previous failed attempts. But this effort was different. For the first time in half a decade, she was reunited with the children she’d lost. Nestled in the al-Hawl refugee camp, the family had been living for months in squalid conditions.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe I’m here with you, I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming,” said a shocked 16-year old Hoda when her grandmother arrived.
As the pair embraced, Nettleton repeated “You’re not dreaming, you’re not going to wake up”, repeatedly kissing her granddaughter’s face, pulling back her full, black niqab. The footage of such raw, unconditional love and relief as the pair fell into one another was impossible not to be moved by.
But their ordeal is not yet over.
Karen Nettleton was forced to return to Australia at the end of the episode without her grandchildren. After hundreds of lengthy discussions with the Australian Government and days in Syria waiting for answers, Nettleton received news that she would have to wait yet more time for the children to be processed with no definitive date given.
Zaynab is 8 months pregnant and faces the terrifying prospect of giving birth within the camp– an experience which would undoubtedly threaten her life and that of her unborn child.
While Australian officials have confirmed the children will be resettled with their grandmother accordingly, pressure to get them home quickly is mounting. These children did not make the decision to travel to the Middle East and join Islamic State. They are merely tragic pawns in a game that was way beyond them. Their home is Australia, and it’s time they were safely back.