“Free subject to conditions” would be the security status of terror suspect Suhayra Aden if she returns to New Zealand, according to a senior government minister.
It looks increasingly likely 25-year-old Suhayra Aden and her children will end up in New Zealand; they’re being held in a deportation centre in Turkey after trying to illegally cross the border from Syria.
RNZ has been told the message from New Zealand officials to their Turkish counterparts has been – “we’ll come and pick her up, just give us a bit more time because of Covid-19”.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said national security would be of high priority if she does return here, so attention has been turning to the laws in place to respond to what could be New Zealand’s first case of a terror suspect returning.
Andrew Little was Justice Minister responsible for the 2019 law allowing ‘Control Orders’ to be imposed on people returning to New Zealand, suspected of being involved with, or helping, terrorist organisations.
The orders allow monitoring, but not detention on arrival – Little says that hits the right balance “in a democracy like ours when you’re talking about somebody who has citizenship, who otherwise would have the right of free movement but who is assessed as posing a risk”.
Police Minister Poto Williams says she is “confident” there are measures in place to “enable the public of New Zealand to feel some comfort that we are monitoring this person”, if Aden does end up here.
When asked if the law meant Aden could be at large in the community, Williams said the case was still under consideration and she could not “give any further details”.
The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act was passed in a rush when New Zealander Mark Taylor surfaced in Syria. Labour ended up doing a deal with the Greens to get the law through. National wanted a much stricter regime, for example a lower age at which the orders could kick in and the ability to lock up people for 72 hours on arrival. Those measures were not included in the law as the government did not end up needing National’s votes.
Once a High Court judge accepts an order should be imposed, authorities can pre-emptively track and monitor people. There are strict thresholds, including that they pose a “real risk of engaging in terrorism related activities”. The judge has to deem it necessary to “protect the public from terrorism” and to “support the relevant person’s reintegration into New Zealand”.
While there is a long list of restrictions – things like being at certain places; not leaving the country; not associating with certain people; checking in with police and being fingerprinted – there is no specific reference to detaining someone on arrival.
National’s leader Judith Collins says she will seek further advice about what the orders allow police to do, as the public needs assurance about security.
“This is a very serious situation for New Zealand and the way in which we handle the situation is going to be crucial.
“What we know is that the government has a situation of two children who may well have, one at least, is most likely still an Australian citizen. They may well have Swedish citizenship depending on what the rules are for Sweden, but I think we need to find out the facts first.”
New Zealanders would expect strict security measures to be in place, “to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders first and foremost”, Collins says.
“Even though she is a New Zealand citizen, people would expect us to take a very strong stance … so I’ll get some advice on it, and I also think that it’s something that the Prime Minister and I may well want to discuss.”
Ardern says there is “no update” on whether the family will come to New Zealand “but it is fair to say that the Turkish authorities are aware of the complexities, they of course are also aware that we’re providing consular assistance and are aware of the status of the people in question”.
Aden’s case sparked a diplomatic row with Ardern accusing Australia of “abdicating” its responsibility.
There’s no set timeframe for Aden’s possible return to New Zealand, but there is an expectation the situation should be resolved either way within the next month or so.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says New Zealand is continuing to work with Australia over the family’s “reintegration, relocation and next steps”.