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Kiwis fighting in Syria 'silly' - Key

Tuesday 11 Feb 2014 9:23 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe agree that Kiwis leaving to join the conflict in Syria pose a potential threat to New Zealand. 

Mr Key confirmed yesterday that some New Zealanders have left to join Syria's civil war, while a "small group" who wanted to travel to the devastated country have had their passports revoked.

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said the Government has to believe it presents a threat to New Zealanders.

"Our concern obviously is A, them doing something very silly to themselves or to others, but also getting further radicalised."

Mr Cunliffe shares the Prime Minister's views, and is calling for tougher laws like in Australia, where citizens who enter a foreign country to engage in hostile activity can be jailed for up to 20 years.

But in New Zealand, it can be difficult to charge those who engage in overseas conflict unless it can be proved they are a terrorist.

"Technically if they fight for a known terrorist organisation under the Terrorism Suppression Act, charges could be laid, but in reality you'd have to prove that and we know that that can be quite a challenging thing to prove," says Mr Key.

The Government is able to revoke passports under legislation which enables the Minister of Internal Affairs to do so on national security grounds.

"There have been people where we have intervened, we have cancelled their passports, they've been young, we've managed to talk to their families and over time they've come to realise that they were about to do something very, very silly indeed," he says.

But Labour's associate Foreign Affairs spokesman Phil Goff thinks the Government has gone too far.

"They could have simply said 'anybody that constitutes a risk to New Zealand, of course we'll be keeping an eye on and if they step out of line we'll take action against them', but stopping people's rights to go abroad to fight for a cause that they believe in, and some of them are liberal democrats – people that we would associate with that are doing that, I think is wrong," Mr Goff told RadioLIVE.

The Government takes potential terrorist threats "very seriously" and Mr Key admits they have "pretty good" intelligence to find those wishing to travel to Syria, in order to stop them.

"Obviously we do our best to try, if we have that information, to stop them doing something silly.

"You have to take the view that somebody that is potentially going off to fight, maybe with a terrorist organisation like al-Qaida against say the Assad regime, faces becoming […] more radicalised and therefore if they return to New Zealand presenting greater risks," says Mr Key. 

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