Sydney - Australians who take part in the fighting in Syria face up to 20 years in jail, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Friday after a Melbourne man was reportedly killed in the conflict.
The spokesman said the government was aware of reports that more than 100 Australians had engaged in the conflict since 2011 but he had “no evidence” of any citizens currently involved.
Under the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978: “A person shall not enter a foreign state with intent to engage in a hostile activity... or engage in a hostile activity in a foreign state.
“Penalty (is) imprisonment for 20 years,” the spokesman said.
“Anyone in Australia who recruits someone to fight overseas faces seven years.”
At least three Australians are reported to have died in Syria, including a Melbourne bricklayer reportedly travelling under the name Abu al-Walid al-Australi and killed last weekend fighting alongside rebels.
Australian Arabic Council founder Joseph Wakim said many people travelling to Syria claimed they were providing humanitarian support to the war-torn nation but were instead involved in the fighting.
“I do believe that for most of these people it is far more a decision of personal conviction than it is of some sort of financial gain,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
He has called for greater vigilance over people travelling to the country.
But Carr said it was very difficult to keep track of people's movements in Syria.
“It's a country on the verge of collapse and internal communications are extremely poor,” Carr told the ABC.
“We know... that it is a matter of militia against militia; that local militia control parts of the country and our capacity to know what individual Australians might be doing inside Syria is, of course, extremely limited.”
Australia has been deeply critical of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has urged all its citizens to leave Syria, but there are 67 left in the country, mostly dual-nationals who are long-term residents.