State Of It: Cunliffe Must Explain Why He Abandoned Support For Asylum-Seeker's Plight
Editorial by Selwyn Manning
Prior to David Cunliffe being promoted to his Minister of Immigration position, he met as an MP with asylum-seeker, Thomas Yadegary. The Labour MP interviewed Mr Yadegary, supported his plight to seek refuge from Iran in New Zealand, and wrote to him on a Parliamentary Service letterhead indicating his ongoing support for his refugee status application. (Graphic by Scoop's Lyndon Hood.)
However, that support was withdrawn once David Cunliffe accepted his Immigration ministerial warrant. Why? Surely the Minister must answer this question.
Another notable Labour minister, Phil Goff, had in 2004 also written to the then Associate Immigration Minister, Damien O'Connor, seeking reconsideration of Thomas Yadegary's case.
But those appeals on behalf of a man, who's religious conviction places him in danger of being persecuted in Iran by the current fundamentalist regime, had been relegated to history once David Cunliffe took over as Minister of Immigration.
In recent months, the credibility and standing of those engaged in Parliament has taken a severe pounding. This metamorphosis of David Cunliffe's character, that once considered Mr Yadegary's plea for refuge worthy and vital, to that of apparent indifference, is unbecoming of David Cunliffe – an MP and minister who many consider to be a rising talent within the Labour-led Cabinet.
If this incarceration matter is not satisfactorily concluded by balancing human rights principles with legal process, then not only Parliament's credibility will suffer but also that of the Executive, the Minister's sincerity will be questioned, and Mr Yadegary's right to a life of liberty free of unjust persecution will, on balance, be stolen from him.
It must be remembered that Ministers are not merely representatives of their respective departments and ministries, but primarily representatives of the public interest, the national interest and that of the New Zealand way - in this case, that national-condition, and the buck, stops with David Cunliffe.
Scoop Audio (UPDATE): National Party's Lockwood Smith asked the Minister of Immigration questions in Parliament today regarding the refugee applicant Thomas Yadegary who is held in Mt Eden Prison until he signs his own deportation passport papers. Answering is Associate Minister Clayton Cosgrove on behalf of David Cunliffe.
To follow are sections of a letter (and links to pdf's of the letter) dated November 11 2004 where David Cunliffe spells out exactly why Thomas Yadegary ought to be considered a refugee.
… "I am aware that Mr Yadegary has recently been detained in custody and that a letter from Mr Yadegary's local MP, Hon Phil Goff, requesting reconsideration has been received by your office.
"I write on the basis of support for that letter
and respectfully request your urgent consideration on three
"The Authority (Refugee Status Authority) accepts that Mr Yadegary is a committed Christian who will 'spread the light' amongst family and friends and yet suggests that he is not at serious risk of harm.
"Recent evidence indicates those who actively display their new faith in public, especially by proselytising, can expect to face severe repression in Iran.
"Thus, Mr Yadegary has a plausible case however the RAA finding of his appeal is at odds with the following Refugee Status Appeals Authority precedents. (ref. RSAA Appeal 72323/00)."
"New Zealand enjoys considerable religious and political freedom. The diverse ethnic and religious communities generally share positive and harmonious relations. There is a strong public interest in maintaining the situation. There is a risk that deporting Mr Yadegary to Iran to face significant risk of persecution could excite division between Christian and Moslem communities within New Zealand.
"Based on interviews with Mr Yadegary and several of his neighbours, Mr Yadegary presents as well known and liked in the local community and appears to be of good character. He is working in a small successful business in my electorate."