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Mr Delamere: Enough Is Enough!

Mr Delamere: Enough Is Enough!

by Selwyn Manning

How much longer do we have to endure the shame of having asylum seekers hunger striking while locked up inside Mt Eden Prison? A long time yet if today’s media release from Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere is anything to go by. Frankly the minister’s statement was simply; pathetically shocking.

We are talking of course about eighteen men from Pakistan, India and Iran who claim to be refugees and have been refused temporary permits to stay in New Zealand.

Their applications for refugee status were turned down and an appeal against the Immigration Service’s decision has been lodged.

But an argument has ensued between lawyers acting for the asylum seekers and the Minister of Immigration.

Mr Delamere accuses the lawyers of stalling tactics: “However, the claimants, with the support of their lawyers, have frustrated and obstructed this process at every step. If their claims are so compelling, one has to ask why they are adopting this strategy,” Mr Delamere says.

The stand-off has caused am embarrassment. Inside Mt Eden Prison, men are starving themselves to death. The world’s human rights watchdogs are cautioning our Government over its handling of the affair. Should one of the protesters die, then be prepared for an international media and governmental examination of how this nation of ours treats those who may require refuge in this island land of plenty.

The hunger strike has entered its third week.

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The men are protesting because they do not want to be deported back to regimes they claim will persecute and/or kill them on their return. They are also protesting against the New Zealand Government's policy of holding would-be-refugees in prison until their identity and status can be determined.

As with all protests the idea is to highlight the cause, to attract media attention and to test the sympathy of public opinion.

Nothing new in this.

But throughout this whole sorry saga, New Zealand’s Immigration Minister, Tuariki Delamere, has created a trench for himself. And what is more worrying, he has aided an environment where political mana will be lost if the protesters’ refugee status appeals are eventually supported.

Today [Thursday, November 18 1999] Tuariki Delamere said: “They are illegal migrants. They arrived without any visas or passports and New Zealand law allows for the detention of illegal migrants while their claims for refugee status are determined.

“It is standard practice in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States to hold illegal migrants in custody while their refugee status claims are processed,” Mr Delamere said.

But this is being challenged by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International. The watchdog organisation says: “International standards state that asylum-seekers should not normally be detained. In exceptional cases, for certain specified reasons, it may be permissible to detain an individual for a limited period, and only after full consideration of all possible alternatives. Moreover, if asylum-seekers are detained on any such grounds, the detention should be given a regular and meaningful review by a court or judicial body.

“The Immigration Minister asserted that it is ‘standard policy’ to detain people with apparently ‘manifestly unfounded’ asylum claims. This fails to recognise the exceptional grounds for detention under international standards and flouts New Zealand’s human rights obligations,” Amnesty International said.

Furthermore, Amnesty International claims one of the incarcerated asylum seekers has been tortured. And... “In any case, if the authorities have been alerted that an asylum-seeker shows signs of torture, how can the Immigration Minister deem his [the seeker’s] claim to be ‘manifestly unfounded’?”

But, Mr Delamere remains steadfast in continuing to question the sincerity of the seeker’s motives.

It may yet be proven, that the hunger strikers as a group, or individuals among them, are not eligible to claim refugee status and remain in New Zealand.

But surely that is yet to be determined. And herein lies the whole point!
Even we mere media, during an appeal period for crimes, have to consider the justice values of sub judice; the conclusive ethic of innocent until proven guilty. Surely, a Minister of the Crown must uphold the same value judgements which are afterall founding pillars of New Zealand and indeed Commonwealth society.

However, here is a snippet from Mr Delamere’s latest media statement, dated Thursday, November 18, 1999:
* “These asylum-seekers are the equivalent of 'boatpeople'. The only difference is that they arrived by air.”

Are we to take from this comment that Vietnamese boatpeople were and are to be looked down upon?

Has Mr Delamere considered that those “boatpeople” actually may have had reason to leave their homeland?

And earlier Mr Delamere states: “These claimants, and their lawyers, hope that by taking their claims to the media, it will arouse public sympathy and somehow influence the outcome. I think it's outrageous that lawyers who are supposed to uphold the process of law appear to be trying to subvert that process.

“But in trying this approach, they underestimate the intelligence of New Zealanders,” Mr Delamere said.

Here, I make reference to the Minister’s earlier media statements on this issue.
See… Delamere: Asylum seekers refusing to cooperate in Scoop’s Parliament Wire. And… Delamere rejects asylum-seekers' claims also in Scoop’s Parliament Wire.

It appears by his statements, Mr Delamere himself has pre-judged the claims of these hunger strikers. Prejudged them prior to any appeal being settled. And it is this impression which dissolves any confidence that these people may have once possessed in New Zealand as a free land.

Should we ask such questions of ourselves? Is New Zealand free from lofty judgements as to the causes of one’s low personal circumstance? Is this country free from political interference in the course of justice? Is there justice for the common person? If not, what do we do to right a wrong?

Whatever the answers, it is understandable that these men - who today rest on their prison beds, weak from having refused food for almost three weeks, who refuse all but water to pass their lips - protest through personal pain, attempting to raise concern from the public of New Zealand, hoping we will listen and ensure that their case for refugee status will be considered fairly and without political or personal prejudice.

Earlier this week a Catholic Priest visited the asylum seekers. He emerged from the Prison concerned enough for their welfare to go public. Mt Eden Prison medical staff and officers are monitoring the condition of the hunger strikers on a constant basis. Should any become gravely ill, measures are in place to hospitalise the protester immediately.

Amnesty International is calling for a resolution. Heaven forbid, a resolution is the purpose and motivation of this writer for scripting this opinion piece.
One can appreciate that the Minister will no doubt have information available to him that we do not possess. Well, one would hope so.

But to speak directly, Mr Delamere, forgive us for wondering if your Westpoint Military Academy experiences, or the closed border ideals of your former party New Zealand First, are failing to equip you with skills necessary to demonstrate leadership and clarity, or provide you the skills to remain impartial, when called to act with the wisdom of a humanitarian.

Today, the public interest demands that this case be settled. It is hightime to move over and let the wheels of justice roll. Failing that, if there is resistance, let us welcome a new Minister of Immigration. A.S.A.P!

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