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Minister Rejects Criticism Of New Immigration Act

Hon Tuariki Delamere
Minister of Immigration

Media statement
For immediate release
Thursday, 17 June 1999

Minister rejects criticism of new Immigration Act provisions

Immigration Minister, Hon Tuariki Delamere, has rejected lawyer David Ryken's criticism of the detention provisions of the Immigration Amendment Act 1999.

Mr Ryken, who is also the Secretary of the Refugee Council of New Zealand, says the bill passed by Parliament yesterday does not give the Government the power to hold boat people who claimed refugee status.

The Immigration Minister said Mr Ryken appears to be overlooking the two step process covering the arrival of illegal migrants.

"Anyone arriving in New Zealand without the proper documentation may be refused entry," Mr Delamere said.

"Usually these people arrive by air, and, under normal circumstances, they would be held in custody until they could be returned to the place they came from on the first available aircraft.

"However, if a person refused entry then claims refugee status, in accordance with our obligations under the Refugee Convention, the Immigration Service would not remove that person from New Zealand until their refugee status claim had been determined."

To try to make the claimants self-supporting while their claim is determined, New Zealand has adopted the practice of issuing individual refugee status claimants with work permits, although this is not always the case.

Where someone arrives in New Zealand and makes a claim for refugee status which appears to be abusive or manifestly unfounded, that person would be held in custody while their claim was determined.

"In the case of a mass arrival of illegal migrants by boat, there is a distinct possibility, based on overseas experience, that those involved may not be genuine refugees but victims of a migrant trafficking scam."

In the event of people arriving in New Zealand under these circumstances and claiming refugee status, rather than issue them with work permits it might be more appropriate to hold them in custody while their claims are being processed.

For those illegal migrants claiming refugee status and detained in custody but who are found not to be genuine refugees, a further period of detention may be required in order to obtain travel documents and arrange repatriation if this has not already been done.

"Whether it is one person or one hundred people, the process is the same," Mr Delamere said. "Persons are held as illegal migrants, not as refugee status claimants.

"A claim to refugee status by a person detained as an illegal migrant is not the key to the cell door."

The Minister said this premise has been supported by the High Court.

"In the absence of a successful claim for refugee status, the door can only be opened if a judge or the Immigration Service decides that detention is no longer warranted," he said.


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