People seeking asylum should be welcomed, not imprisoned.
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What’s the problem?
In Aotearoa New Zealand, Immigration Law and practice enables the arrest and detention of some asylum seekers, including in criminal justice facilities, for the purpose of carrying out a potential turnaround or deportation order “just in case” their claim fails, pending satisfactory establishment of their identity, or on “threat to security” grounds.
Detaining asylum seekers specifically in criminal justice facilities is contrary to the standards set by international human rights bodies, including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2018. In 2015, the United Nations warned Aotearoa New Zealand against putting people seeking asylum and other migrants in criminal justice facilities. Whilst the majority of people seeking safety in New Zealand are not detained, this practice continues for some, with significant impacts. Our report shows that in the years since, at least 86 people seeking asylum have been locked in New Zealand prisons while they await the outcome of their claim.
These 86 people had to pass through a complex hybrid of civil and criminal detention processes. This usually began by being arrested at the airport or in the community, detained in a police cell for several nights, brought before a judge in the District Court, and taken to a prison managed by the Department of Corrections or a private prison provider contracted by the New Zealand Government. Their detention in a police cell or prison ranged from several days to several years. Despite not being charged with a criminal offence in New Zealand, asylum seekers detained in a prison are are subject to essentially the same regime as remand accused prisoners.
Findings from Amnesty International investigations conducted into the continuation of these policies in the 2015 - 2020 period demonstrate that they have put refugees and asylum seekers at risk, and in some cases, constitute human rights violations.
We are calling on Minister of Immigration, Hon. Kris Faafoi to end the use of criminal justice facilities to detain asylum seekers and implement significant reforms to the Immigration Act 2009.
Imprisoning asylum seekers is causing significant harm
Findings from the Amnesty International Aotearoa report “Please take me to a safe place” highlight the significant harm that has come from detaining asylum seekers in criminal justice facilities, it represents a failure by government to keep some of the most vulnerable people in Aotearoa safe.
Amnesty International investigations have documented a case where a reported survivor of torture, later recognised as a refugee, was allegedly raped whilst being double bunked in prison. We also interviewed a case where a man reported being caught up in the notorious “fight clubs” at Mt Eden Corrections Facility, resulting in him being forced to regularly fight other remand prisoners. Three men spoke of how their treatment led them to want to end their life. All spoke of the negative impacts on their well-being from their prison experience, and the shock that Aotearoa New Zealand would detain them when they had come here to seek safety and a better life. 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 with a cellmate. Another man was reportedly accidentally placed in a restraint jacket due to language barriers.
All those we interviewed reported being double bunked at some point with remand prisoners in prison and it was standard practice to be strip searched. Language barriers for some meant they suffered in silence and couldn’t even ask for help. Three were detained in prison despite a community group or family member offering to host them in the community. Their accounts and experiences tell the human side of the complex web of systems, policies, laws and processes that they are subjected to.
In some cases, the abuses experienced could amount to failures to prevent ill-treatment under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Prison is not suitable for someone seeking asylum
When Immigration New Zealand applies to a Court to detain someone in prison, they know that once in prison, they will be under the same regime as remand prisoners. Immigration New Zealand has admitted to imprisoning several other people, later also recognised as refugees, who were past survivors of serious trauma. This was a profound failure to properly screen people for suitability for detention, and any form of detention of these particularly vulnerable individuals (such as torture survivors) in a criminal justice facility is prohibited under international human rights standards.
The nature of being an asylum seeker means you do not always have an established support group here. Once someone is detained in a prison, their phones with their contacts are taken away. This combined with English often being a second language means that people can be left not knowing who to ask for help. With the exception of legal representation, support agencies are not notified of their detainment so people or their families can be left wondering where they are. Prison can also make it incredibly difficult for people seeking asylum to access information outside prison to be able to pursue their asylum claim. Even those who are released from prison faced significant challenges, including poverty, lack of access to social supports or work, and ongoing mental health impacts from their traumatic prison experience.
What are the alternatives?
There are alternatives to using criminal justice facilities. Prior to detaining any person on immigration grounds, Immigration NZ needs to ensure it is meeting international human rights law. We’re concerned that our research indicates Immigration NZ is failing the proportionality test required by international law for any restrictions on the right to liberty for immigration detainees. Detention is not always being used as the last resort as it should be. “Lack of family or community ties” is amongst the cumulative reasons used by Immigration New Zealand as a reason for justifying “absconding risk” when seeking the detention of asylum seekers in prison. This inherently disadvantages asylum seekers who will not necessarily have family ties or financial means in Aotearoa New Zealand. Even when an alternative option was provided by a lawyer, family member or community group in some cases, these options were not taken up and prison was still used.
Meanwhile the Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland or being released on conditions in the community are among the much more humane options for people if some form of restriction on movement is considered necessary. Since 2013, the New Zealand Government has not consistently funded the only community-based Asylum Seeker Support Hostel in Aotearoa New Zealand, where asylum seekers can be released to on reporting conditions.
The failure of the New Zealand Government to both provide and utilize adequate alternatives to detention in practice is a significant contribution to the use of prison as a form of immigration detention for asylum seekers.
One of the key ways to show your support for this campaign is to share content from this campaign across on Social Media.
Alternatively, you can copy the tweets below, or save some of the images and create your own posts.
1) From 2015-2020, 86 people seeking asylum have been detained in prison in Aotearoa. @amnesty_NZ ‘s new campaign highlights why @KrisinMana must end to the use of criminal justice facilities to detain ppl seeking asylum. Take action today!
2) BREAKING: People seeking asylum are being imprisoned in Aotearoa, simply for seeking safety. Join us to call on @KrisinMana to stop this harmful practice immediately.
3) Detaining people seeking asylum in criminal justice facilities is contrary to international human rights standards. But right now, this is happening in Aotearoa. Take action today.
4) We want care, dignity and humanity for all. It’s why we are calling for @KrisinMana to stop imprisoning people seeking asylum in Aotearoa when there are adequate alternatives.
Whenever you tweet, don't forget to include a link to this action by copying and pasting the URL above and tag us @amnesty_nz as well Minister of Immigration @KrisinMana
Make your own videos, social media posts or art and share them! Some phrases you might want to include:
People seeking asylum need safety not prison
Stop imprisoning people seeking asylum
Reform Immigration Act
Provide alternatives to detention
Respect asylum seeker rights
People seeking asylum deserve dignity
People seeking asylum deserve human rights
Or you can share these graphics on your own social media pages...