New NZIS "Undesirability" Visa Policy Outlined
New NZIS "Undesirability" Visa Policy Outlined
By Kevin List
When on Monday Immigration Minister Paul Swain revoked former Iraqi diplomat Zohair Mohammad al-Omar’s visa citing the fact Mr al Omar had a role in an oppressive regime, this may very well have been the first time this has ever happened in New Zealand.
Yesterday at a press conference, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labour and head of the New Zealand Immigration Service (NZ Immigration Service) Maryanne Thompson couldn’t cite any other cases of someone being in New Zealand lawfully, and having their visa revoked for their role in an oppressive regime.
“We have had too much comfort from an SIS type clearance. Security and desirability are actually two separate things,” explained Ms Thompson.
After the first Fiji coup in 1987 there a "blacklist" was drawn up of people that wouldn’t be allowed into New Zealand. It is also understood that the NZ Immigration Service has lists of people closely associated with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who would also fail to gain access to New Zealand due to their connections with Mr Mugabe’s oppressive regime.
It now seems that past attempts at "desirability" border control mechanisms will be greatly beefed up following Winston Peter's revelations concerning Iraqi citizens who played a role in Saddam Hussein’s regime, who have since entered New Zealand. These sweeping changes could effectively close the borders of New Zealand to anyone the government of the day regards as unwelcome or "undesirable".
Ms Thompson informed media that officials from a number of different agencies including the intelligence services would be trawling recent visa applications of people both inside of outside New Zealand from countries with former and current oppressive regimes as well as regimes that have a record of crimes against humanity.
“There might be people who may not threaten our daily lives here in New Zealand but there may be people who we as a society and a country don’t wish to have here,” she said.
The first phase of the new policy would involve applications from anyone from Iraq and Jordan. Mr Swain had been consulted and agreed with the new policy direction.
As well as the NZ Immigration Service and Security Intelligence Service, other key agencies working on the implementation of the policy include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Customs, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Police.
When asked why the former Iraqi diplomat (Mr al Omar) was being singled out, Ms Thompson pointed out that not only had he worked for Saddam Hussein’s regime but that he had also, “advocated for some of the oppressive acts against the people in Iraq. At any time this person could have not done that – and in that sense [he] supported those acts of oppression…I do not want to go any further than that.”
After further questioning, Ms Thompson expanded slightly on her original answer explaining that, “In this case the undesirability comes from the fact that this person is advocating very strongly and in forums that really matter about acts that were unacceptable.”
Ms Thompson appeared to be referring to an article from a South African newspaper quoted in the New Zealand Herald.
Early today, the Herald confirmed that al-Omar was serving in South Africa as Iraq’s ambassador just as the US-led coalition declared war on Iraq.
Isaac Mogotsi, South African director of Foreign Affairs for the Middle East, told the Herald that al-Omar had "certainly [also] served as Iraq’s ambassador to Cuba" and had "sought asylum in New Zealand".
In an April 2003 interview in the South African Sunday Times, al-Omar defended Saddam and said suicide bombers were a "justifiable" means of fighting coalition forces invading Iraq.
"Are we sending any suicide bombers outside our country? No, we are defending our country. You have people ready to fight for their motherland. What’s wrong with that?"
He was certain that Iraq would prevail. "By the will of God, those aggressors must go back to their countries. Defeated."
Firdos Square Baghdad, April 2003
The fall of Baghdad, marked by the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, occurred on April 9th 2003. The end of combat operations in Iraq was announced by US President George Bush on May 2nd 2003.
Green MP Keith Locke today expressed concern that the Government could be imposing a standard that hasn’t been imposed in the past.
“I’m not sure there have been many immigrants from South Africa, whether white or black, that we trawled through [immigration files] to see who had the right views or the wrong views,” he said.
Prior to the desire to target individuals who may have played a role in oppressive regimes, New Zealand has relied on security clearances. But by relying on police clearances there is no way of knowing what part thousands of South Africans played during the years of apartheid.
Former Immigration Minister, Lianne Dalziel explained this loophole in an interview with Scoop last year. When asked how it would be possible to screen South African citizens that may have been intricately involved in that country’s oppressive regime, Ms Dalziel replied;
“Residency applications require character and health checks. Character requirements’ are usually met through the production of Police certificates…South Africa has been through a truth and reconciliation commission which is where they [South Africans] agreed legal action wouldn’t be taken for those who fronted up and apologised to those that had been the victims of atrocities.”
Ms Thompson also confirmed at yesterday's media briefing that the man identified as the former Minister of Agriculture under Saddam Hussein, has now also had his visa revoked. It is understood that Mr Mr al Omar the former diplomat will not be contesting the immigration Minister’s decision to revoke his visa, but the former Iraqi Agriculture Minister, Mr al-Khashali will be opposing the decision.
Although it was conceded that the NZ Immigration Service was only targeting Arab countries and citizens at present, Ms Thompson was at pains to point out this was only a temporary measure, “we will widen that, it won’t be just Arabs”.
It is understood that there are 54 countries of concern to the NZ Immigration Service. Until this week all visa applications from the Middle East were processed through the NZ Immigration Service’s Bangkok office. As of yesterday all new applications from these countries of concern would be processed from head office in Wellington.
Besides confirming that Iraq and Jordan were of concern to the NZ Immigration Service Ms Thompson would not be drawn on naming any other countries of security concern, or identify countries that New Zealand considered had oppressive regimes.
When asked if Afghanistan or Zimbabwe were two other countries that may be of concern to New Zealand Ms Thompson refused to make any comment, referring all further questions to the Minister.
Scoop understands that besides Iraq other countries of concern to the NZ Immigration Service are Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and, Zimbabwe.
They play cricket in Zimbabwe, but also have an oppressive regime
As of late last year nearly 2,500 Zimbabwean citizens had been allowed to stay in New Zealand through a special policy exemption.
For the last few decades Zimbabwe has been under the rule of two regimes that fit the definition of ‘oppressive’ in anyone's book, firstly Ian Smith’s racist regime of the 1960s and 1970s followed by Robert Mugabe’s murderous dictatorship.
At the time of the Zimbabwean policy exemption Scoop contacted National and NZ First’s immigration spokespeople, Tony Ryall and Dail Jones for comment on why New Zealand was making a policy exemption for then 2,300 Zimbabwean citizens.
Both agreed with the Government's handling of the situation, Mr Jones pointing out that, “they play cricket and rugby so what more do you want.”
Mr Ryall didn’t want to make any comment because he agreed with what the government was doing. Mr Ryall did however at the time assure Scoop he would look into the situation.
How the new tightened border control policy will work practically was hardly canvassed by Ms Thompson.
Auckland barrister and immigration spokesman for the Auckland District Law Society, Jeremy Sutton suggested that immigration forms may need to be tweaked.
“The alternative to having a list of unwanted people is to have a much more detailed process and to devote more resources to it, which means everyone has to go through the same process,” he said.
Whilst this would solve the problem of undesirable people gaining entrance to New Zealand, Mr Sutton was unsure how the government would deal with people who were already permanent residents or had gained refugee status. These people may have been perfectly honest in gaining residence and have followed the correct procedures yet may still find themselves deemed undesirable retrospectively.