Government accepts Turkish request to deport alleged terrorist Suhayra Aden and her children to New Zealand

The Government has accepted a request from Turkish authorities to deport alleged Islamic State terrorist Suhayra Aden and her two children to New Zealand. 

The three have been in immigration detention in Turkey since crossing the border from Syria earlier this year, and Turkey has requested that New Zealand repatriate the family. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Monday that Cabinet has agreed to the managed return of the woman who has New Zealand citizenship, and her two children, from Turkey. 

"New Zealand has not taken this step lightly. We have taken into account our international responsibilities as well as the details of this particular case, including the fact that children are involved," Ardern said. 

"I can assure people great care is being taken as to how the woman and her young children are returned to New Zealand and how they will be managed in a way that minimises any risk for New Zealanders.

"They are not Turkey's responsibility, and with Australia refusing to accept the family, that makes them ours."

In February, 26-year-old Aden who previously lived in Melbourne, was arrested by Turkish authorities near the border with Syria over her alleged links to Islamic State. 

She held dual Australian-New Zealand citizenship, but hadn't lived in New Zealand since she was six. That didn't stop Australia from revoking her Australian citizenship, washing their hands of the problem and dumping it on New Zealand. 

Ardern was furious at the time, accusing Australia of "abdicating its responsibilities", because "any fair-minded person" would consider the woman Australian.  

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his priority was protecting his country. Australian law allows the Home Affairs Minister to strip anyone suspected of terrorism of their citizenship, as long as it wouldn't leave them stateless. 

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne acknowledged in April the citizenship issue was complex, particularly since it involved Aden's two young children.

Suhayra Aden has been linked to the Islamic State terror group.
Suhayra Aden has been linked to the Islamic State terror group. Photo credit: Yeni Safak newspaper screenshot

Ardern said on Monday negotiations with Australia are ongoing. 

"As most New Zealanders know, I made very strong representations to Australia that she should be permitted to return there. Her family moved to Australia when she was six and she grew up there before departing for Syria in 2014, on an Australian passport. 

"Unfortunately, Australia would not reverse the cancellation of citizenship. However, Australia has subsequently assured us it will proactively consult with New Zealand if any such case arises in future."

Ardern said New Zealand is not able to remove citizenship from a person and leave them stateless, and as New Zealand citizens, this country is the only place where they can currently legally reside.

"While negotiations with Australia have taken place, extensive contingency planning has been underway involving the police and several other agencies and the Government wants to be as upfront with people as it can be about the planned return.

"Planning by agencies has been two-fold - to ensure all appropriate steps are in place to address potential security concerns and to have the right services in place to support reintegration, with particular focus on the wellbeing of the children."

Ardern said details about arrangements or timing to bring the family home will not be made public. For legal and operational reasons, the security arrangements will also not be disclosed. 

"It has previously been made clear that any New Zealander who might be suspected of association with a terrorist group should expect to be investigated under New Zealand law, but that would be a matter for the police."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accused Australia of "abdicating" its responsibilities for revoking the accused terrorist's citizenship.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accused Australia of "abdicating" its responsibilities for revoking the accused terrorist's citizenship. Photo credit: Getty

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says the family's privacy should be respected. 

"I am proud that New Zealand has put the interests of the children in this case first and allowed them safe passage to Aotearoa with their mother," he said on Monday.

"Now the rest of us need to call on the same compassionate spirit that saw us come together through Covid and other tragedies. We need to protect and embrace the two small children at the centre of this situation as they start to make Aotearoa home.

"They are New Zealand citizens after all."

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand has also asked that the family be respected, as the woman has neither been charged nor convicted of any crime, either in New Zealand or overseas.