Australia Revokes Terror Suspect’s Citizenship

On Monday, February 15th, Turkish authorities detained a 26-year-old woman and her two young children as they tried to enter the country from Syria, on allegations of terrorism and Islamic State links.

The woman had previously held dual citizenship with both Australia and New Zealand and was known to both countries’ authorities for some time. However, within the last year, Australia revoked her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws.

As Turkey continues to ramp up its commitment to deporting foreign terrorist suspects, Wellington expressed frustration at Canberra’s decision to unilaterally revoke the woman’s dual citizenship as the legal responsibility would now fall on New Zealand to deal with the woman and her children; even though the woman left New Zealand as a child and had travelled to Syria from Australia, using an Australian passport.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern voiced her anger and called on her Australian counterparts to take responsibility, saying that New Zealand was “tired of having Australia exporting its problems.” She continued, “I never believed the right response was to simply have a race to revoke people’s citizenships… they did not act in good faith.” Ardern also raised her concern for the welfare of the children involved: “my focus is on resolving this issue with the best interest of the children in mind, whilst continuing to make very strong representations to Australia about their responsibility here.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Canberra’s decision, saying that he was putting “Australia’s national security interests first,” and that his country’s anti-terrorism legislation “automatically cancels the citizenship of a dual citizen where they’ve been engaged in terrorist activities of this nature.”

The ‘nature’ of this woman’s engagement with terrorist activities remains unclear. It is important to note that Turkish authorities have previously identified individuals living under Islamic State as terrorists even if they had not engaged in combat or terrorist activities.

This is not the first time that Australia has revoked citizenship for dual nationals suspected of terrorism and reflects a worrying trend in countries―such as the UK, Canada, and continental Europe―where citizenship has been stripped on grounds of national security. This type of legislation targets dual nationals, given that international law prohibits making someone stateless and has the power to strip the citizenship of anyone suspected, rather than convicted, of terrorism. This could give rise to miscarriages of justice and abuse of power already seen elsewhere. The rule of law also requires transparency and legal certainty which are called into question when an individual’s citizenship is revoked. The fact that Australia has failed to disclose the exact number of people whose citizenship has been cancelled adds further ambiguity.

Prime Minister Ardern was correct to raise her concerns regarding the welfare of the two children involved, and whose interests must be protected. The settlement of these children where they have family or connections must be a priority. Australia’s stance has threatened the stability and welfare of these vulnerable children. Equally, the rights of the woman involved must be protected by due process in determining whether she is guilty of the crimes she is accused of.

Anti-terrorism legislation is an important part of national security; however, simply revoking citizenship does little to tackle the real issues of radicalization and implies dual citizens have less of a right to Australian citizenship than non-dual nationals. Ultimately, Australia’s decision to transfer legal responsibility to New Zealand is irresponsible and reactionary. It is harmful to human rights and causes international disputes, hindering a cooperative approach to tackling terrorism. It also fails to work in the best interest of the children involved and uphold the important principle of innocent until proven guilty. Rescinding dual citizenship based on suspicion alone is an extremely dangerous precedent that must be challenged moving forward.

Emer O'Reilly