The New Zealand woman detained in Turkey as a “terrorist” spoke of how she had a last-minute change of mind about going to Syria but was bundled into a van and driven across the border.
It comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken of how the woman is not alone and that she wants to open dialogue with Australia to handle each case of terror-linked dual nationality individually.
Ardern dialled down the angry rhetoric aimed at her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Tuesday when she revealed being wrong-footed on the fate of Suhayra Aden, who was detained in Turkey this week.
While Ardern had spoken to Morrison of the case a few years ago, she was expecting further discussions. Instead, Morrison cancelled the Melbourne woman’s Australian passport, meaning Aden was left with just her New Zealand nationality despite not having lived here for 20 years.
Aden left New Zealand for Australia with her parents at age 6 around 2001, growing up in Australia before leaving by herself for Turkey with the intent of going into Syria and linking with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
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ABC investigative journalist Dylan Welch described to the Herald how he met Aden in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in September or October 2019.
Welch and colleague Suzanne Drudge had travelled to Syria to interview a number of Australian women who had fetched up in the camp after Isil disintegrated.
On completing the interviews, he left a tent in the 70,000-strong refugee camp and encountered Aden with her two surviving children.
“She was obviously terrified. I could see her hands shaking. She explained how worried she was, not only for herself but mainly for the kids. She was terrified she was going to lose the baby.”
Welch said Aden wanted to leave Syria and she was clear about where she hoped to go. “I’m pretty sure she said to us she just wanted to come home and by that, she meant Australia.”
Welch said Aden had spoken of travelling to Turkey with the intent of going to Syria but changing her mind at the last minute.
However, according to Aden, she was with a group bound for the war-torn country and was unable to escape from them. She was kept in a van and driven across the border. “Next thing she knew, she was in Syria.”
The transtasman row that saw Ardern deliver a broadside to Morrison cooled yesterday, with her tone more conciliatory after a phone conversation with the other leader.
She confirmed that there was the possibility of other cases emerging similar to Aden’s, and why that underscored the need for New Zealand and Australia to work together.
“That was one of the reasons we needed to address this as close partners and friends because rather than just taking an arbitrary view on all of those cases we should have looked at all of those cases and say ‘who is responsible for whom?’.”
Ardern said the question of how to deal with Aden if she returned to New Zealand was still some distance from needing to be resolved.
“This is still an individual who is at the Turkish border,” Ardern said. It was unknown, as yet, whether she would face charges there, or if New Zealand was her ultimate destination.
If she did return, Ardern assured the country steps would be taken to meet and deal with any extreme beliefs she carried with her. “We will be making every effort (if she did return) to ensure we know as much as possible to support and protect New Zealanders.”
Victoria University Centre for Strategic Studies senior fellow Jim Rolfe said the trans-Tasman scrap showed “family fights can be fiercer than fights with non-family”.
“No doubt she feels let down having raised the issue with Morrison two years ago. On top of that, there is the continual irritation of Australia exporting its criminals, most of them socialised in Australia, to New Zealand.”
Rolfe said it was possible Morrison had simply forgotten to tell Ardern he had cancelled the passport. “Unless he wants a fight with New Zealand – and I can’t see that he would want a fight – I would go for the cock-up over conspiracy. He might have completely forgotten.”
Rolfe said New Zealand wasn’t suffering this treatment from Australia because it was smaller, and the junior partner in the transtasman relationship.
He said Australia would likely take the same approach with other allies such as the United Kingdom or the United States. “It’s much easier with New Zealand.”
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