Yesterday a bill to change how we treat large groups of asylum seekers passed its first reading. We’ve never had a refugee boat reach the country. Some are asking why this bill is being proposed now, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
What is the Immigration (Mass Arrivals) Amendment Bill?
I have to confess that when a note about the Immigration (Mass Arrivals) Amendment Bill floated past me the other day, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I then heard a snippet of news about the possibility of electronically tagging asylum seekers on the way to work, putting two and two together. As Stuff’s Glenn McConnell reports, the bill, which passed its first reading yesterday, would change how the courts and Immigration NZ officers act if a boat with more than 30 asylum seekers aboard reaches New Zealand shores. That number of asylum seekers is defined as the “mass arrival” used in the bill’s title.
Immigration minister denies he trying to make it easier to detain asylum seekers
Charlotte Graham-McLay has a very good write up for The Guardian on the changes, the opposition to what is being proposed and reaction from Aliya Danzeisen, the national coordinator of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, to what she described as remarks which were “quite xenophobic” during the debate in the house yesterday. Graham-McLay rightly points out we have never had a refugee boat reach the country. That fact and the proposed changes have prompted Green MP Golriz Ghahraman to suggest “the humanity and the rights of asylum seekers” is being turned into an election year issue” adding it didn’t seem to be a “bread and butter” issue. Immigration minister Michael Wood has said there is a low likelihood of a “mass arrival” event here and is framing the legislation and the extended detention period as practical preparation.
Proposals include imprisoning asylum seekers
The proposed changes include an allowance to detain asylum seekers in prison for as long as it takes for officials and the courts to process their application for asylum. No asylum seekers have been held in custody in New Zealand for three years and a report commissioned by the government from Victoria Casey KC in 2021 was critical of the practice. Immigration NZ accepted Casey’s recommendations. Wood has said that if a boat arrived carrying hundreds of people, the current time frames would be impractical and there wouldn’t be legal resource to help everyone seeking asylum, hence the need to detain or electronically monitor them. Amnesty International says that if the government is worried that the current system cannot cope, “the solution is to equip its border and legal systems with the resources they need to ensure that all people are treated fairly and in a way that upholds human rights.”
Electronic monitoring of asylum seekers in the UK described as “psychological torture”
The monitoring proposals include electronically tagging asylum seekers, so, as Wood put it, they were only detained in prisons when absolutely necessary. The United Kingdom launched a pilot scheme to electronically tag some asylum seekers arriving in small boats from France or in the back of trucks last year. A report released last October described the practice there as “psychological torture”. Wood says the “proposed changes demonstrate the government’s commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law” and it would only use detention and community management for people believed to pose a risk, including that they may abscond.
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