27 Jul 2021

New Zealand trapped on the moral high ground with Suhayra Aden

5:13 pm on 27 July 2021

Power Play - New Zealand may now be claiming the moral high ground as it grudgingly accepts Suhayra Aden and her two children, but its hands are tied.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Suspected of links to Islamic State, Aden was born here but raised and radicalised in Australia, a country she's called home since she was six years old. It made Australia's decision to revoke her citizenship stick even harder in New Zealand's craw.

Australia dumped its responsibility squarely in New Zealand's lap, bullishly and unapologetically. The angry response and pleas for co-operation from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went unheeded. The promise from her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison that it won't happen again is a hollow offering.

No one should be surprised Australia refused to bow - consider Morrison's own domestic audience and his country's long-held hardline stance at the border - it was never in its interests to give any quarter to someone with links to a brutal terrorist organisation, even in the absence of specific charges or allegations.

QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 31: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the Australia-New Zealand Leaders Meeting on May 31, 2021 in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Scott Morrison with Jacinda Ardern during his visit to New Zealand in May. Photo: 2021 Getty Images

New Zealand also views itself as more compassionate than its brash trans-Tasman cousin, but in this instance was given no choice.

Turkey would have deported Aden regardless of New Zealand's wishes. Officials here were careful from the start to keep the relationship with Turkey sweet to give New Zealand time to see if Australia would come to the party, and if not, to make the necessary arrangements. It quickly became apparent New Zealand would be her destination; as early as March foreign officials here told Turkey they would take her but needed more time because of Covid-19.

New Zealand had been put in an invidious position. When Australia revoked Aden's citizenship it was at least with the knowledge she would still be a New Zealand citizen. If New Zealand wanted to also abdicate its responsibility it would have meant leaving her and her two children stateless, an extreme option and one the government found unconscionable.

A 26-year-old New Zealand citizen and two children were taken to court at Hatay under security measures. Turkye's Ministry of National Defence said they tried to enter from Syria illegally.

Suhayra Aden, right. Photo: AFP / Anadolu Agency

National's Gerry Brownlee sparked up the debate further, suggesting if New Zealand had the same anti-terror, citizenship-stripping laws as Australia it would not have been in this predicament in the first place.

It's not, however, a policy that's likely to show up on his party's manifesto any time soon and certainly won't get any traction with this Labour government. Senior Cabinet minister Andrew Little describes Australia's 2016 anti-terror legislation as setting up a "very ugly, brutal race between countries to strip citizenship of people they just don't want".

"Not in keeping with New Zealand's international obligations and ... obligations as a country that wants to be a good nation-state citizen," he added - still perched on that moral high ground.

It's not all peace and love when it comes to repatriating foreign fighters, though.

New Zealand remains quite happy to leave "Kiwi jihadi" Mark Taylor languishing in a Syrian prison, offering no assistance to get him a new passport and back to this country. Undoubtedly the presence of two children put a different complexion on the Aden case and few would think it humane or acceptable to leave them to their fate. In this aspect the New Zealand government felt it had no choice and, however disagreeable, has accepted the family and the security precautions, risks and costs that come with it.

There is a plan for when they arrive in New Zealand and the 2019 Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act would allow close monitoring and restrictions on movement, association and access to the internet. There are time limits on such orders but National has said a surveillance operation could cost "millions of dollars", depending on its scale and duration.

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Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

As minister responsible for intelligence agencies the GCSB and SIS, Little doesn't have even a "rough estimate" of the cost of any arrangements that may have to be put in place. He says it's not only about protecting New Zealand citizens, but also Aden and her children as they settle into the community.

Don't expect to hear any details about what will happen as it will roll out under a shroud of legal and security secrecy, even with the significant amount of interest in how they ended up here and how New Zealand will deal with the return of the first person known to have been on the ground with IS in Syria.

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