By Neeraj Mahajan /World News Report Exclusive
Australia is yet to come to terms with how best to deal with home-grown terrorists and foreign fighters holding dual citizenship but found to be sympathetic or engaging with terrorist groups within or outside the Australian borders.
This issue is important because nearly 100 Australians are presently fighting on behalf of different terror outfits in the Middle East. Some 90 Australians have volunteered to join the jihadist groups in Syria. Apart from them some 150 Australians are believed to be involved in planning or supporting terrorist and terrorist acts on the Australian soil. About 400 terrorism cases are being investigated.
More than 110 Australians have been killed in overseas terrorist attacks in the past decade.
According to reports, two Sydney teens were recently prevented from boarding a flight to Turkey by the border security staff.
Australia’s problem an increasing number of young Muslims are getting attracted by the Islamic State’s propaganda campaign over the internet and via social media. This is something that cannot allow and has to counter.
Australia’s predicament is similar to that of Pakistan when the erstwhile jihadist fighting in Afghanistan started flowing back home in the late 70s, early 80s. They were all trained fighters who just loved fighting whatever the cause. Since most of them had nothing else to do and an empty mind is a devil’s workshop, they started creating trouble for Pakistan, internally.
Pakistan, which had been providing them training, arms and ammunition had to think suddenly of a plan to destabilize India in Kashmir and pre-occupy the jihadists who almost started a civil war in Pakistan. That was when Gen Zia-ul-Haq the military ruler in Pakistan conceived of the Op-Topac plan to make India bleed in Kashmir and started exported terrorism – to save Pakistan from its mischief-makers.
Australia too faces a similar threat. If it does not douse the fire while it still can — the internal peace and security of Australia could be compromised.
The Australian Government is aware of the consequences and is expected to make some changes in the Citizenship Act. The idea is to keep Australia and Australian citizens safe – from insiders as well as outsiders in coming days.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is proposing a bill to amend the Citizenship Act by the end of June but is up against at least six members of the Abbott cabinet opposing it.
To understand the contours of the tricky stalemate — for a moment consider four options.
- An Australian citizen by birth is found guilty of participating, supporting or financing terrorism or terrorists
- The Australian citizen holding a dual passport is found guilty of terrorism
- A person born elsewhere but only holding Australian citizenship is found guilty of terrorism
- The person of foreign origin born found guilty of terrorism holds another citizenship besides the Australian
The genesis of the confusion starts with a few unanswered questions:
- Whether Australia can or should strip the citizenship of home-grown or foreign terrorists – if it is going to render them stateless?
- Should the law apply equally to Australian citizens – either born in Australia or outside – even if they happen to be terrorist sympathizers?
- Could an Australian-born citizen, without any other citizenship, be stripped of Australian citizenship at the discretion of the immigration minister alone, without being pronounced guilty in court?
- If Australia were to strip people of citizenship on suspicion of terrorism, would another country approve that person’s citizenship application?
The gray area starts with the assumption nobody – either born in Australia or outside – should be rendered stateless lose their fundamental rights — a violation of international law, without due process. They should already have or a chance of availing the citizenship of another country.
What this does in effect is rule out categories 1 & 3 above i.e. is and Australian born or a foreigner holding single Australian citizenship from receiving the same treatment as others. Both such individuals could be tried in Australian courts for engaging in terrorism, but their citizenship cannot be stripped off.
However, persons holding dual citizenship could lose the Australian nationality for the same offense.
Alternately the authorities could bypass the international law preventing countries from making people stateless and even a person who holds sole Australian citizenship could lose the same if they have legal access to citizenship of another country.
Much of this confusion is because Australia has been trying to copy a law in the UK, which says that a person can’t be rendered stateless.
“We have the constitutional obligation to provide citizenship to that person. We have obligations under the convention that we won’t render somebody stateless and if somebody’s been involved in terrorist activities in the Middle East for example and they come back to Australia, they’ll face the full force of the criminal law. This is not a criminal sanction…,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in an interview.
On the other hand, dual citizens could be stripped of Australian citizenship on suspicion of terrorism.
All this is sure to set a bad precedent as the spirit of the Australian law is equality for all.
If terrorism is a crime, then there should be similar punishment for all irrespective of single or dual citizenship.
A related issue is what happens to children and families of terrorists who wish to come back home after committing terrorism elsewhere. Would you accept them freely?