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Shane Jones: Address to Refugee & Asylum Forum

Shane Jones

12 March, 2008

Address to Refugee & Asylum Forum in Auckland

Tena koutou katoa, greetings all….

Until I became Associate Minister for Immigration I had very little experience in the refugee space. However since taking the Associate Minister of Immigration portfolio my experiences could not have been more divergent.

Among my many experiences was my trip to the Refugee Quota Branch recently and; then there is my day-to-day work as Associate Minister deciding on appeals made to me under the Immigration Act. Some of these appeals are made by failed refugee claimants who are generally subject to section 129U.

First – my trip to the Quota Branch. This trip could not have been more enlightening for me as a junior minister. At the branch I saw first hand, the realities of refugees coming to live in New Zealand and I am proud of the branch, its manager Christina and the staff who work there.

This was in stark contrast to my other experience, looking into the cases of people who have come to New Zealand, claimed asylum and been found to not meet the refugee convention.

These people have been through the refugee determination and appeals process, sometimes more than once. Sometimes they may have been through the Removal Review Authority appeals process as well, and duly failed all processes.

Therefore Now is a good time to explain my process thoroughly. I’d like to make the following comments about people who ask me to intervene in their immigration situation.

These may include:

• those whose applications for refugee status have been declined, or
• those who do have refugee status, but have not been granted residence (maybe because of health or character issues), or
• refugees who are residents and who want to have their families join them in New Zealand

When it comes to these matters, I will not normally consider such requests unless the person involved has gone through the appropriate application and appeals processes.

In these cases Immigration New Zealand prepares a summary of the customer’s situation to assist me in the consideration of the case. Generally, the summary includes a history of the applications and appeals made, an overview of family and employment factors, and a description of any health or character issues.

This summary may also include Immigration New Zealand notes of why an application was declined and; relevant comments from the appeal boards such as:

• the Refugee Status Appeals Authority
• the Residence Review Board
• the Removal Review Authority

I take into account the advice given, the known settlement factors, and any humanitarian issues when I make my decision. Let me state there is no guarantee that just because someone has requested intervention, the answer will be ‘yes’. More often than not, the answer will be ‘no’.

• Often the case has been well considered by Immigration New Zealand and one or more appeal authorities before reaching my desk.
• Just because someone is ‘well settled’ here does not mean they should stay.
• In some cases, such as those involving individuals with a very violent criminal history, refugees are still liable to be removed or deported. This is in accordance with the Refugee Convention, article 33.

As it stands each case is considered on its own merits. If I intervene in one case, it does not set a precedent for future cases which might seem similar to the outsider.

If I do say ‘no’, it is sometimes the case, that the person has not explored all possible options under normal immigration policy (this is especially true of those who are trying to bring family members over). In such a case, I attempt to direct the person to the correct category or policy.

Often my advice will come from officials who work as part of the Department of Labour’s Border Security Group or the Immigration Profiling Group. Their job is to protect New Zealand’s border and manage risk to New Zealand’s international reputation.

Now some of my colleagues have come to me to find out what takes this profiling group so long and what are they up to, probably it’s best for me to leave this to the Manager who I know is having a session this afternoon, however the bottom line is that the Government remains committed to managing risk to New Zealand's international reputation and ensuring firm and fair immigration processes for refugees and their families.

So, where to from here?

Well, I am pleased to announce that the Dept of Labour is planning a review of refugee and asylum seeker settlement policy and support. This will be wide ranging, looking at the resettlement needs and outcomes of approved asylum seekers. They are different group from Quota refugees with distinct needs.

Approved asylum seekers are currently unable to access much in the way of orientation or resettlement support after having their claim recognised. Some don't need much, others do.

As an outcome of the review, the Department of Labour is actively investigating whether approved asylum seekers should receive initial orientation and case managed resettlement support tailored to individual needs.

Obviously the other great piece of work the Department is undertaking is the Immigration Bill. I understand that an official from the Department came and spoke to you about the Bill at the last forum and advised it was at the Select Committee – the committee received 90 submissions many of which addressed the refugee and determination process in the Bill.

The Committee is currently working through the submissions and will report back to the House on 30 June. All of the submissions have been useful and will assist the committee with getting the determination procedure correct. The Government has appreciated submissions in support of the inclusion of the CAT and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Thank you and Kapai

ENDS

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