Australian Teen Oliver Bridgeman Calls Passport Cancellation A 'Big Joke'

13/03/2016 9:12 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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An Australian teenager stranded in Syria has branded a federal government decision to cancel his passport as "absolutely ridiculous", rejecting claims he planned to participate in politically motivated violence in the war-torn nation.

Queenslander Oliver Bridgeman is currently trapped in Syria where he says he has been doing humanitarian work for almost 12 months.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) cancelled Bridgeman's passport in February after accusing him of engaging in hostile activities in a foreign country and the Australian Federal Police have issued a warrant for his arrest.

Speaking on Muslim internet channel One Path Network, the 19-year-old defended his actions in the war-ravaged country, saying he was in Syria doing humanitarian work.

"This winter we have been very active in distributing much needed supplies, delivering warm jackets, heaters, mattresses to people in refugee camps," he said.

"We have been actively helping the youth in projects."

He said he did not know why his passport had been cancelled and a warrant issued for his arrest.

"I saw the assessment on why they cancelled my passport and when I looked at what they said, it is absolutely ridiculous," Bridgeman said.

"The claims were something to do with my aid work here and on my Facebook page.

"So when I looked at the claims it was kind of a big joke, I kind of had to laugh myself.

"I have no idea whey they did this, like I said, they basically stated for humanitarian reasons and at the end they included that they thought I was going to participate in political violence, which is obviously not true."

The Queenslander said he felt betrayed by the government and questioned whether the decision was based on his faith.

"Is it because I'm Muslim? I don't know what it is. I think they've painted every Muslim that comes to Syria all with the same brush, that we're all terrorists, when that is quite frankly not the case," he added.

Bridgeman contrasted his treatment with that of Ashley Dyball who was allowed to reenter Australia after joining a Kurdish military campaign battling Islamic State.

Bridgeman's comments come after his lawyer Alex Jones last month blamed the government for stranding the teenager in Syria.

Jones said the decision to cancel Bridgeman's passport was made when he was organising to come home.

He said Bridgeman could not get across the border and if he did would be in breach of Australian law.

"There is absolutely no evidence Mr Bridgeman had engaged -- or ever intended to engage -- in any unlawful acts while in Syria," he said at the time.

"We do not understand the point of this. Mr Bridgeman has nothing to hide. His parents have co-operated with authorities during their son’s time in Syria and are devastated that he now has no means of returning home to them."

Bridgeman's appearance in the online interview comes ahead of a 60 Minutes investigation into the situation that will air on Sunday night.

The government has previously defended the decision to cancel Bridgeman's passport, saying Australians have been warned not to travel to Syria.

A DFAT spokeswoman would not comment directly on Bridgeman's case but told The Huffington Post Australia the agency was aware an individual in Syria "may be seeking to return to Australia".

"For privacy reasons, we do not comment on the status of a person’s passport," she said.

"It is standard practice to provide Australians who have had their passports cancelled while overseas a temporary travel document to enable them to return to Australia."

She said the government had consistently discouraged Australians from travelling to Syria and Iraq "to participate in hostile activities".

"DFAT is unable to provide consular assistance to Australians in Syria," she added.

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