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'They just have to stop it': Call for instant changes to end Immigration out-of-hours raids

Pasifika from all over New Zealand have come to the ceremony.
A woman who was among the audience at the government's apology for the 1970s Dawn Raids. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

A Pacific community leader wants the government to fast-track law changes to ban dawn-raid like immigration compliance visits.

An independent review has called for a ban or restrictions on arresting overstayers in their homes either late at night or early in the morning.

It said the government's apology two years ago for the traumatic raids of the 1970s "rings hollow" in light of the failure to tighten the rules.

The report revealed that neither Immigration New Zealand (INZ) nor the minister had done any work to align their practice with the apology.

The review made it clear the INZ's procedures needed to change and raids to arrest overstayers should only be used as a last resort.

It said officials should consider how children or the elderly might be affected, citing the violent arrests of the past where people were dragged from their beds.

The review also also urged the government to consider changing the Immigration Act to stop or restrict the early morning or late night visits.

While INZ said it would continue to pause out of hours visits until it updates its guidance, Tongan community leader Kennedy Maeakafa Fakana'ana'a-ki-Fualu said that was not enough.

Fakana'ana'a-ki-Fualu, who leads the Auckland Tongan Community Incorporated, said he wanted to see a law change now to ban dawn-raid-like visits.

"I don't want to come across the word 'pause' ... they just have to stop it, they have to change the law, they have the majority in Parliament, so they can fast-track it," he said.

Fakana'ana'a-ki-Fualu who attended the formal apology in 2021 said the government needed to stick to its promise that the raids would not happen again.

Soane Foliaki, the lawyer for a Pasifika overstayer whose home was raided at dawn in April, shared his views.

"The recommendation that I would follow, is that they should put a stop to this thing," he said.

He said the heavy handed approach when deporting people needed to stop, particularly given that most affected people have not committed criminal offences.

Foliaki said he was also worried for newer migrants who might not know how to protect their rights during such immigration visits.

"It's not just about Islanders, it's also about the Chinese and the Indians, it's all the same, what happened to those people? Did they have lawyers or anybody that advocated for them?"

The report showed that since 2015 there have been 95 early morning or late night overstayer arrests and 101 people have been deported - 47 of those were Chinese nationals.

Of the 22 people deported from out of hour visits in the 2022/2023 financial year, there were 17 Chinese nationals, two from India, one from Fiji, one from Tonga and one from Malaysia.

Foliaki said it continued to be people of colour who were being targeted.

Andrew Little speaks to media
Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Meanwhile, the Immigration Minister Andrew Little said he was sorry nothing changed after the government's apology.

"I'm really regretful that the action wasn't taken to change guidelines, update guidance given to Immigration New Zealand, for their enforcement officers. It is something I think with the benefit of hindsight, we'd say should've happened," he said.

He said he will be talking to the INZ about their guidelines.

The minister also said he will be taking the report's recommendations to Cabinet in the next couple of months, but added that it was unlikely there would be any law change before the election.

He believed there was still a place for out-of-hour visits in exceptional circumstances.

"I wouldn't want to remove the ability for Immigration officers to take action out of hours, when it is an absolute last resort and appropriate to do so, and conducted in a reasonable and proportionate way," he said.

However, bans would be considered in cases where children were likely to be present.

"If we have learnt our lessons from the 1970s Dawn Raids, it is that we should not be enforcing this particular law in a way that is traumatic, not only to those who the law is being enforced against, but those around them, including children," he said.

Anu Kaloti
Anu Kaloti. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

A migrant advocate says current government immigration policies are contributing to people overstaying.

Anu Kaloti told Morning Report international students, for example, poured thousands of dollars into education programmes and arrived on legitimate visas.

Some of the courses they enrolled in were not up to standard meaning they did not gain meaningful qualifications, Kaloti said.

The students also needed to work to support themselves and repay their debts back home with families paying so much to send them abroad to study.

"They feel the burden of shame returning home as a failure without anything in hand and they get trapped in this vicious circle of just staying here whether it's legally or whether it's unlawfully."

Kaloti said the latest review and the government's own statistics showed a large number of Chinese and Indians were targeted by Immigration's raid on homes either in the early hours or late at night.

"The overall sense that we get is that they're all people of colour; that's the first thing that comes to the surface here."

She was unsure if targeting particular sectors was deliberate, however, in the pre-Covid years there had been a large influx of workers on temporary visas for sectors such as construction and many of them were Chinese.

Some cases that had already come to light showed "gross exploitation" of some of those workers. The country's immigration policies had forced people to become overstayers by tying them to one employer in order to keep their visas, Kaloti said.

She said it was even harder for Asian overstayers than those from the Pacific whose members had been coming to New Zealand for much longer so they had more support people and community groups to help them.

Government agencies needed to step up to support new migrants, she said.

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