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Columbus Academy investigation update

Columbus Academy investigation update

Education Minister Trevor Mallard today released more details about the multi-agency investigation into the Auckland-based Columbus Academy.

“The Government’s multi-agency investigation was launched in late February following the alleged murder of a young Japanese man who lived at the academy. This investigation’s top priority has been the safety and welfare of Japanese nationals resident at the academy,” Trevor Mallard said.

“We have been in contact with the Government in Japan and we acknowledge their assistance in contacting the parents of the Japanese young people who live at the Academy.

“Because I do not want to jeopardise this investigation or any possible future investigations, I can not go into detail about the information that has come to light, except to say that a worrying picture has emerged.

“The multi-agency investigation has however had some success. The team on the ground initially faced obstruction, and nurses placed on the Columbus Academy property feared for their safety due to the presence of dogs.

“But cooperation improved when the legal representation of Columbus changed.

“A total of 58 individuals hold immigration permits associated with Columbus.

“The multi-agency team secured an agreement that eight residents aged under 17 return to their parents in Japan, and they have. Another seven residents have also returned to their homeland and we are continuing discussions with Columbus about our desire that the remaining school-age students who live at the academy also return to Japan.

“Officials are working with the remaining residents, some of whom are tertiary level students, on a case-by-case basis, and according to standard immigration regulations,” Trevor Mallard said.

“As the multi-agency investigation draws to an end, the Government intends to explore areas where more work must be done to ensure a repeat of the events surrounding the Columbus Academy does not occur.

“There are lessons to be learned from this situation, in particular the need for a greater whole of government approach, and greater coordination between agencies. Having said that however, the multi-agency team has proved how well agencies can work hard together on the ground to successfully resolve complex problems,” Trevor Mallard said.

The agencies which have been involved are the Ministries of Education, Health, and Foreign Affairs, the Immigration Service, the Employment Relations Service, the Inland Revenue Department, the Police, Child, Youth and Family and the Fire Service.

Trevor Mallard confirmed he has also referred issues arising out of and linked to the Columbus Academy to the Serious Fraud Office.

“In terms of the next phase of the Government’s work, I have already signalled a tightening around the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students, in relation to the provision of accommodation. Immigration will also be looking at the issuing of student visas.

“The Education Review Office (ERO) is presently conducting a special review to check schools’ compliance with the existing code. This work was initiated before the events relating to Columbus.

“I have asked the Education Ministry to ask schools to inform us if they are aware of two or more kids staying in the same accommodation, in order to alert us to similar situations.

“District Health Boards are also being asked by the Ministry of Health to report any knowledge or concerns they have about the mental health needs of people, particularly children and young people, who are international students,” Trevor Mallard said.

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