NZ Mass Arrivals Bill major setback for human rights

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A detention centre in Greece (c) Georgios Giannopoulos

Amnesty International is appalled with the New Zealand Government’s decision to push forward with a Bill to introduce detention under a mass warrant for asylum seekers, who arrive in groups of more than 10.

“Yesterday the Transport and Industrial Select Committee released a report supporting a Bill that will breach several important human rights, including the right to be free of arbitrary detention, and access to justice rights,” said Grant Bayldon, Executive Director of Amnesty International.

“The Government has shown a total disregard of the violent and terrifying situations from which these people are fleeing.”

“People have a fundamental legal right to seek asylum, and Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the Government is giving itself the ability to breach these obligations.”

While the Organisation supports the efforts by states to curb people smuggling, research has shown that harsh, punitive policies imposed on those using smugglers to flee persecution does nothing to deter the people smugglers themselves.

“Having an efficient processing system that recognises the need for security, health and identity checks, of those that arrive is also commendable, but what needs to be understood is that we already have a robust system for doing this. Unnecessarily locking up women, children and families will violate New Zealand’s international obligations”.

“Detention can fundamentally damage individuals who have already fled tortures we can’t even imagine and thus it is crucially important that detention is used only as a last resort and not on mass in an effort to deter people smugglers.

Experience in countries like Australia has shown that the the cost to repair the psychological damages caused by detention can last for years after people are released. This will not only further unnecessarily burden New Zealand  taxpayers but robs individuals of the ability to contribute productively to their new country."

“Any solutions that view asylum seekers as ‘illegal migrants’ and locks them up rather than protecting them is illegal under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention,” said Grant Bayldon.

Amnesty International is also extremely disappointed with the language being used as politicians promote it with terms such as ‘illegals’; ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘queue jumpers’.

“They are words used in the political discourse in Australia, but are now finding their way into New Zealand law and in the media. They are derogatory, misleading and dehumanising, and encourage xenophobic attitudes amongst the public.”

Amnesty International believes that the Bill is unnecessary, that it will not achieve its stated purposes and it risks breaching human rights obligations. It will jeopardise New Zealand’s reputation as a world leader in protecting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

“We are urging all parties to vote against the Bill in its second reading and call for any debate to have the rights of asylum seekers at its centre,” added Grant Bayldon.

Read Amnesty International’s full submission on the Immigration (Mass Arrivals) Amendment Bill