16 Feb 2021

Jacinda Ardern slams Australia over Turkey 'terrorist' detainees

3:44 pm on 16 February 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has lashed out at Australia for dumping responsibility for a woman and two young children detained at the Turkish border on New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament this afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The 26-year-old detainee - described by the Turkish government as an Islamic State terrorist - was caught trying to enter Turkey illegally from Syria.

Ardern said the woman, who had dual citizenship, left for Australia when she was six and travelled to Syria from Australia on an Australian passport.

Ardern said she directly raised the matter with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and asked that they work together to resolve the issue.

"I was then informed in the following year that Australia had unilaterally revoked the citizenship of the individual involved. You can imagine my response.

"Since then we have continually raised with Australia our view that their decision was wrong, we continue to raise that view.

"My concern however, now, is that we have a situation where someone is now detained with two small children," she said.

Legally the woman's citizenship now only lies with New Zealand.

"I never believed that the right response was to simply have a race to revoke people's citizenship, that is just not the right thing to do."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta

Jacinda Ardern with Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta deplores Australia's approach to the situation this afternoon. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"We will put our hands up when we need to own the situation. We expected the same of Australia, they did not act in good faith."

"If the shoe was on the other foot we would take responsibility, that would be the right thing to do, and I ask of Australia that they do the same," she said.

She said New Zealand officials would be working to do welfare checks of those involved, and would be engaging with Turkish authorities.

"Regardless of their circumstances, regardless of whether have committed offences and particularly we have obligations when they have children involved.

"I would argue Australia holds those obligations too."

The welfare of the children also needed to be at the forefront in this situation, she said.

"These children were born in a conflict zone through no fault of their own."

Ardern argued that coming to New Zealand, where they have no immediate family, would not be in the children's best interests.

"We know that young children thrive best when surrounded by people who love them. We will be raising these points with the Australian government," she said.

"New Zealand frankly is tired of having Australia export its problems, but now there are two children involved."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded by saying it was his job to put Australia's national security interests first.

"My job is Australia's interests. That's my job. It's my job as Australia's Prime Minister to put Australia's national security interests first," he said.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint news conference in Japan on November 17, 2020.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison Photo: Kiyoshi Ota / POOL / AFP

"The legislation that was passed through our Parliament automatically cancels the citizenship of a dual citizen when they've been engaged in terrorist activities of this nature," he said.

"That happens automatically and that's been a known part of Australia's law for sometime. I undertstand the New Zealand government has some issues with that and the Prime Minister (Jacinda Ardern) and I are scheduled to speak later today. We speak quite frequently and it's an issue we've discussed before."