After 5 years, numerous cellphone calls, on-line messages and two failed rescue missions, Sydney grandmother Karen Nettleton has been reunited along with her three surviving grandchildren and two great-grandchildren in a refugee camp in north-east Syria.
It’s the first time she has seen Zaynab, Hoda and Humzeh Sharrouf since they had been taken by their mom Tara Nettleton, spouse of infamous Islamic State (IS) fighter Khaled Sharrouf — to affix the terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq. Tara, Khaled and their two eldest sons have all since died.
4 Corners accompanied Ms Nettleton as she made the determined journey to Syria to rescue the three orphans and Zaynab’s two toddlers, Aiesha and Fatimah, from the al-Hawl refugee camp, the place they’ve been residing in squalid circumstances for a number of weeks after they managed to flee Baghouz — IS’s
“I am unable to imagine that is taking place. I am unable to imagine I am right here with you, I am fairly certain I am dreaming,” 16-year-old Hoda stated as she pushed her face into her grandmother’s chest.
“You are not dreaming, you are not going to get up,” Ms Nettleton replied as she kissed Hoda repeatedly.
The start of the nightmare
For half a decade, Ms Nettleton has lived alone in her silent home in suburban Sydney, the one bodily reminder of her household the handfuls of photographs that dangle in nearly each room.
In February 2014, Ms Nettleton, Tara and the Sharrouf youngsters went to Malaysia on a vacation. Tara advised her mom she deliberate to go on to Turkey.
She stated she needed to go to the well-known Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the place scenes from her favorite Turkish cleaning soap opera had been filmed. They’d be dwelling in just a few months, she advised her mom.
“I kissed the youngsters, kissed their faces. Hugged them, kissed them once more. Hugged Tara. Kissed her. And walked out. And left them there. However I did not know I used to be saying goodbye to Tara, to Abdullah and to Zarqawi after I did that. If I knew, I do not know if I might have gone,” Ms Nettleton stated.
It was the start of a nightmare from which Ms Nettleton solely awoke this month.
Since 2015, the ABC has chronicled Ms Nettleton’s ordeal as she has tried to find her lacking grandchildren and produce them dwelling from war-torn Syria.
Ms Nettleton managed to remain in contact with the 5 youngsters primarily by way of messaging apps. She additionally communicated with Tara up till September 2015, when the 31-year-old died of intestinal issues.
Twice Ms Nettleton flew to Turkey to attempt to prepare her household’s protected passage out of the warfare zone: twice she got here dwelling, defeated, to her silent home.
“I have to have my youngsters again. They deserve to return again right here. They need to be right here and joyful and protected and have meals and be capable to stroll down the road, be regular,” Ms Nettleton stated.
A cellphone name that modifications all the things
Then in March, Ms Nettleton, 58, took the decision for which she had waited 5 years.
“Friday evening I [got] a cellphone name from Hoda telling me she’s within the refugee camp,
Two days later, Zaynab, Zaynab’s two toddlers and
“After which to get the decision from Zaynab … it took a few days for Zaynab as a result of she needed to be processed, however getting her name was … being advised she was there, to really hear her voice. I simply knew they had been all protected, they’ll all be collectively,” Ms Nettleton stated.
As soon as once more, Ms Nettleton packed her luggage and jumped on a aircraft for the Center East. This time she flew into Erbil, Iraq, and made the harmful journey over the border into Syria and to the al-Hawl refugee camp. 4 Corners travelled along with her.
The ultimate search
For 45 minutes, she walked the muddy paths of the camp of greater than 72,000 folks. She weaved between a whole lot of unhappy, tumble-down tents yelling her granddaughters’ names on the high of her voice.
She spoke to dozens of girls carrying the all-covering black feminine robe and veil demanded by IS, asking if they’d seen her youngsters.
Ultimately, a slight British girl advised her the Australian part of the camp was on the camp’s far nook. Ms Nettleton began strolling.
As Hoda emerged from the tent, she was so surprised to see her grandmother that her palms visibly trembled.
“Oh my child, I missed you a lot,” Ms Nettleton cried as she held her granddaughter.
About half-an-hour later, Zaynab arrived, and the tearful, joyous, reunion was repeated.
“I advised you I would come, I advised you I would come,” Ms Nettleton laughed as Zaynab wept and fell into her grandmother’s arms.
The household went contained in the tent. Ms Nettleton dragged in a maroon suitcase bursting with presents — the women’ favorite goodies from Australia, dolls for the toddlers, a headlamp for
The household stayed collectively for hours, hugging and speaking about their previous 5 years and their future — they hope to return to Australia.
After 5 years of silence, Karen Nettleton’s life was immediately a riot of sound and motion.
Australian officers have advised Ms Nettleton her youngsters will quickly be launched from al-Hawl into her care to allow them to return to Australia, although it’s unclear how lengthy their closing journey will take.