New Zealand’s treatment of asylum seekers under Ministerial spotlight 

22 July 2021, 12:44 UTC |

Right now, people seeking asylum can be detained in criminal justice facilities, this practice is contrary to international human rights standards and has caused indescribable, enduring harm.  

Despite concerns raised by the United Nations and calls for change over many years, the policy of imprisoning people seeking asylum has persisted.  

But following the release in May of a damning report by Amnesty International into the practice, the Government is now acknowledging swift action is needed.  

The Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi and Associate Minister Phil Twyford have ordered a review into Immigration New Zealand’s processes following Amnesty's research. The review will focus on the appropriateness of the use of Corrections and Police facilities for immigration detention.  

Amnesty International Executive Director Meg de Ronde says the impact on people seeking asylum here, who’ve ended up in prison, has been horrific. 

"This move by the Government is significant, it potentially represents a marked departure in policy, the impact of which will be profound. For some who have come here seeking refuge, Aotearoa New Zealand has piled trauma on top of trauma. Instead of a compassionate welcome, they were sent to prison for months or even years. Abolishing this policy would be a massive human rights victory.” 

Meg de Ronde, Executive Director, Amnesty Intrnational Aotearoa New Zealand 

The organisation has campaigned on the issue along with the Asylum Seeker’s Support Trust and other civil society groups for many years, and representatives from Amnesty International and the Asylum Seeker’s Support Trust met with Ministers Faafoi and Twyford only weeks ago in June.   

Asylum Seekers Support Trust General Manager Tim Maurice says there are real costs to ill-thought-out processes and legislation. 

“We’re pleased there is finally movement on this issue. There are real costs to faulty laws and processes, and we have seen and continue to see first-hand the harm the policy of imprisoning people seeking asylum.” 

Tim Maurice, General Manager, Asylum Seeker's Support Trust

De Ronde welcomes the Government’s prompt response to their meeting but cautions there is still work to be done.  

“We’re heartened to see such a prompt and direct result to our research and to the meeting we had with the Ministers and the Asylum Seeker’s Support Trust. A review is a good first step, but we along with others in civil society will be keeping the pressure on until we see legislative change to stop the imprisonment of asylum seekers in criminal justice facilities.”  

 Amnesty International’s report, “Please Take Me to a Safe Place: The imprisonment of asylum seekers in Aotearoa New Zealand” highlights the significant harm that has come from detaining asylum seekers in criminal justice facilities. Investigations documented a case where a reported survivor of torture, later recognised as a refugee, was allegedly raped whilst being double bunked in prison. The report included a case where a man reported being caught up in the notorious “fight clubs”, one man spent over three years of his life in limbo in prison as his protection claim for asylum was processed and his hand was broken in an altercation. Another man was reportedly accidentally placed in a restraint jacket due to language barriers. Language barriers for some meant they suffered in silence and couldn’t even ask for help.  

The accounts and experiences in the report tell the human side of the complex web of systems, policies, laws and processes that people seeking asylum are subjected to. De Ronde says change is simply the right thing to do. 

“It’s simply common sense to respond in a compassionate way to someone seeking a place to rebuild their lives after fleeing violence or persecution – it’s what anyone would expect for themselves if they were found in such a predicament. They deserve dignity and decency of care, just like you and I would. This review is the first step to righting these wrongs.”   

Meg de Ronde, Executive Director, Amnesty Intrnational Aotearoa New Zealand 

ENDS