Cabinet has agreed to the managed return of a New Zealand citizen and her two young children from Turkey, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.
The three have been in immigration detention in Turkey since crossing the border from Syria earlier this year. Turkey has requested that New Zealand repatriate the family.
“The safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders is paramount for the Government,” Jacinda Ardern said.
“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.
“The woman was a dual New Zealand-Australian citizen until Australia revoked her citizenship.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“A number of other countries have managed the return of mothers and children from the region and this is the position we now find ourselves in.
“They are not Turkey’s responsibility, and with Australia refusing to accept the family, that makes them ours.
“Agreeing to a managed return was the right step in this case, but we reserve the right to look at any future cases on a case-by-case basis based on the best interests of New Zealand.
“In this case the welfare and best interests of the children has been a primary concern,” Jacinda Ardern said.
Details about arrangements or timing to bring the family home will not be made public, and legal and operational reasons mean particulars of security arrangements in place for when they arrive cannot 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,” Jacinda Ardern said.