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Citizenship Ructions and a Rabbit

February 21, 2021

In a world of angry and sometimes fearful people shouting past each other over all manner of real and imagined problems it is refreshing to get a glimpse of the softer, friendlier, side of humanity.

Lately we have been awash with news about the disorganised and tragic international response to one of the deadliest pandemics in recent history, the astonishing antics of a deluded world leader and his flood of blatant lies and the unseemly shoulder shoving over female speaking rights at Waitangi and male attire in our parliament. 

Amid all that turmoil and trouble there seemed to be little time to consider other tragedies which only parents and grandparents of little children know about and deal with.

While the world tiptoes around the looming, and probably unstoppable, catastrophe of climate change and our prime ministers exchange furious glares across the Tasman over the plight of yet another New Zealand born Australian citizen, there was still room on our news pages for the plight of a lost toy rabbit. The little cuddle companion was left behind at Hamilton airport where staff have called it Wink, after initially assuming it had only one eye. They have adopted it, at least until it is repatriated, probably to a grief-stricken child somewhere. 

In the meantime, the latest furore over dual Australian and New Zealand citizenship has arisen from the arrest of young woman trying to Isis in Syria. Turkish authorities claim she is a suspected terrorist. It turns out that she was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia as a six-year-old and then travelled to Syria on an Australian passport to join Isis in 2014. She has, or had, citizenship of both New Zealand and Australia and now has two young children. They are all taken in Turkish custody.   

Australia moved quickly to revoke her Australian citizenship without any forewarning or discussion with New Zealand, bringing an uncharacteristic eyebrow singing blast of fury from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Her anger was fuelled by the involvement of little children caught up in something beyond their control as well as the fate of a young woman who is, or was, for all intents and purposes, an Australian. Now it seems it will be our responsibility to rescue her. There are few who would not share that anger.

An unrepentant Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took refuge behind a feeble claim that the action is automatic with all terrorists and he had an obligation to protect Australian security. Given that the young woman is only a suspected Isis activist and there are children involved, his excuse has something of an Australian underarm whiff to it. 

Anger has cooled but the disappointment remains and the two leaders are on speaking terms again. Morrison should be reminded that we have one of his citizens in jail here for the rest of his life for terrorism and the biggest mass murder in our history. Although the possibility of sending him back to Australia to serve his sentence has been discussed by both governments, it would be unthinkable to simply deport him without notice.    

This latest fracas over a disillusioned refugee from Isis trying to get home is not the first for New Zealand and there is a risk of at least accusations of double standards. In 2019 Mark Taylor wanted to return home to New Zealand after also joining Isis in Syria in 2014. He was a trained infantryman and although labelled the bumbling jihadi through his obvious ineptitude, he was none-the-less in the ranks of those our armed forces were fighting against. As he only has New Zealand citizenship, international protocols mean that cannot be stripped from him to leave leaving him stateless.

Our Government however does not have a consulate in Syria, where Taylor is being held, and without that we have no ability to assist him. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said Taylor will get no assistance from the New Zealand Government unless he manages to travel to a country with consular support. That is highly unlikely from a Turkish jail cell and his fate remains uncertain.

The deportation of New Zealanders from Australia, following criminal convictions, regardless of how long they have lived, there is an increasingly painful boil on the butt of the cross Tasman relationship which needs to be lanced.

Meantime, we have been brought back to reality with the touching tale of a little rabbit who also wants to go home, hopefully with a lot less thunder and fury. Hamilton Airport staff have shown commendable and refreshing empathy at a time when such displays of humanity have become lost in a morass of bitterness and distrust. Most of us, I hope, will wish Wink a safe return from his adventures for reasons we probably can’t put into words.

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