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Delamere rejects asylum-seekers' claims

Immigration Minister, Hon Tuariki Delamere, today rejected claims from 18 asylum-seekers being held in Mt Eden jail that they are being treated unfairly.

"I am advised by the Immigration Service all those asylum-seekers being held in Mt Eden appear to have claims which are "manifestly unfounded"," he said.

It is standard practice - and within the law - to hold in custody those claimants who do not appear to have a valid case to back their claim.

“When claimants are held in custody, their claims are given priority and dealt with as quickly as possible.”

Mr Delamere said there are two steps to determining an asylum-seeker”s claim in these situations: the Refugee Status Branch of the Immigration Service would make an initial decision, and the claimant could then appeal to the independent Refugee Status Appeal Authority.

Given the number of people currently going through the process, it was taking up to 40 days for a final decision.

“All 30 people who were detained during APEC because of security risks, manifestly unfounded claims, and lack of passports or other documents, have now been processed,” Mr Delamere said.

“Of the 30, only 8 remain in custody, and that is because they are still waiting for their appeals to be decided.”

He said a further 12 people making what appeared to be manifestly unfounded claims - most of them Indian nationals - were detained in custody in October.

“I am advised these people seem to be part of a planned operation to gain residence to New Zealand by claiming refugee status,” said the Minister.

“Many of the claimants, and their lawyers, appear to be deliberately obstructing the Immigration Service”s attempts to have the cases decided as quickly as possible.”

“Their objective is to delay the process and bring pressure to bear on the Service in the hope that the claimants will be released. In some cases the claimants have been feigning injury or illness, and in others the lawyers have been stalling the Service’s attempts to push the cases through for a speedy decision.”

The Minister refuted the claim by Auckland lawyer, Rodney Hooker, that there has been a change in policy regarding asylum-seekers making manifestly unfounded claims.

“Mr. Hooker appears to be out of touch with immigration laws and processes. It has been standard policy since 1998 to detain in custody asylum-seekers making claims that Immigration Service staff with years of experience assess to be manifestly unfounded.

“Another lawyer, representing four of the Indian claimants, has already told the Service that he believes there is a deliberate campaign to try to subvert the accepted process.”

Mr Delamere said the process followed by the Immigration Service to determine claims for refugee status is fair and legal.

"It should be noted that none of the claimants in custody has been found to be a refugee at this stage, but in the event that their claim is successful, they would be released immediately."

He said he regretted the decision by the claimants to start a hunger strike and hoped they would not proceed. At the same time he added that if they believed their claims were genuine, they would receive a faster outcome if they - and their lawyers - were more cooperative.

ends

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