Mixed reaction to the return of Suhayra Aden to New Zealand

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Islamic Women’s Council spokesperson Anjum Rahman

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Wellington, July 26, 2021

Helping Islamic State-linked Suhayra Aden to resettle into the community with her children will be the best outcome for her and New Zealand, Islamic Women’s Council spokesperson Anjum Rahman has said.

She said that the Council is not involved in Suhayra Aden’s resettlement at this stage.

Managed Return

Aden, who has links to the terrorist group Islamic State, is returning from Turkey with her two children after the government signed off on her so-called “managed return.”

But there are no details of what that means or if any restrictions could be placed on her.

Aden has been in custody in Turkey since illegally trying to cross the border from Syria, with Turkish authorities identifying her as a terrorist.

She was a dual New Zealand-Australian citizen, having moved to Australia when she was six. But Australia rescinded her citizenship, meaning that the only place she can legally live in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the government had taken into account its international obligations and the fact children were involved.

Ms Rahman told Checkpoint that Aden’s identity could become known once she moved into a community. But she hoped that the public would give her a chance “to rebuild her life” and allow her children to grow up well and receive an education.

“That’s the best outcome for everyone. The more stress that she’s placed under and the more stress the children are placed under, the less the likelihood of a positive outcome. So, if we can make sure that she gets the support that she needs and the children are well cared for – then that’s the best for all of New Zealand,” she said.

Appeal to government

Ms Rahman said that she expected the government would do its homework and offer the level of resourcing and expertise needed to ensure Aden was a “safe person.”

Rahman said as far as she knew Aden had not been charged with anything and while some people might be concerned over her arrival, she was a New Zealand citizen with nowhere else to go.

“Hopefully, even if we disagree, we can agree that we want everyone to be safe and we want everything done to ensure the best and most positive outcome here. It is the best option as the country had an obligation under international law to take her back. Looking after her and her children would be mainly the government’s responsibility. The government would also need to ensure the family would receive support, including from any school they attended,” she said.

Ms Rahman said that her Group had not been asked to help, and that was appropriate at this stage because they did not have the skills or resources for such a complex situation.

National Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Gerry Brownlee (RNZ Picture by Dom Thomas)

Professionals and experts needed to be involved and she was confident that the government would honour its responsibility.

“We have made sure that our expectations around keeping the family safe, and all of New Zealand safe, are known.”

The Islamic Women’s Council had been talking to the police but are also aware that other agencies were involved.

“Government has made a choice”

National’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said that Australia’s stance was unreasonable, but New Zealand’s government’s decision showed the government did not have a high degree of concern for individual responsibility.

“I think you always have a choice. You cannot really resile with the fact that this woman left Australia to join an organisation that wanted to destroy our way of life … that considered that the way in which we live in both New Zealand and Australia is somehow evil,” he said.

He said that it showed the government’s excuse that Aden could not be separated from her children did not stack up.

“Those children are victims of their parents’ decisions. We have organisations in New Zealand that regularly take children away from bad parents so … I don’t think the suggestion that there were family bonds there that could not be broken was reasonable,” Mr Brownlee said.

He thought that it was “very poor” that the government would not give details about what kind of security arrangements would be in place, and the legal and operational security reasons given were “not good enough.”

“I think that it is just an excuse for not trusting the New Zealand public to know what they are up to,” Mr Brownlee said.

“Life-changing for Aden”

However, Defence Policy Analyst Paul Buchanan said that New Zealand could not afford to refuse to take Aden into the country.

“Australia’s too big a partner on several levels. There are bigger fish to fry when it comes to international security and so we can’t turn what is essentially a bump in the road in our international relations into a full-fledged contest. The Australians reneged on their international obligations but … quite frankly we cannot if we are to maintain our reputation as a responsible international citizen,” he said.

Mr Buchanan said that Aden would likely be subject to a control order, and there would be good security measures in place.

“Not that this woman, in the first instance, poses a security threat other than perhaps with her speech. If she does in fact engage in any radical activity – let us say such as trying to recruit other people or making jihadist pronouncements in public forums – then she will very likely be subject to prosecution,” he said.

Mr Buchanan said that moving to New Zealand would be life-changing for her.

“I think that after the initial loneliness that she will experience in New Zealand following up on the trauma of her existence in the Middle East, she will come to embrace New Zealand and be thankful for what’s been extended to her when her adopted country, Australia, refused to do so. The New Zealand public needs to understand that it was not just about the mistakes this still very young mother made in her teenage years that led her to Syria. It is about two innocent children who had nothing to with the circumstances of their birth, who are by birthright New Zealand citizens, and deserve the full protections that New Zealand can offer them,” he said.

By returning, she was also at risk of discrimination from Islamophobes in New Zealand, he said. “There are other people in the community who don’t want her here and would choose to do her harm regardless of what she does when she comes back to these shores and regardless of the circumstances by which she came here. I wouldn’t want her address … to be released to the public. I would want the police to know that” Mr Buchanan said.

Her return should be backed up by support from the relevant ministries and agencies, he said, and he hoped the Islamic Women’s Council would be asked to get involved.

-Published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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