New Zealand introduces tough measures for asylum seekers

03 May 2012

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced that the government would be implementing "tough new measures to deter potential mass arrivals of illegal immigrants and people smuggling to New Zealand".

The proposed changes were announced 30 April 2012 by the Prime Minister and New Zealand Immigration Minister Nathan Guy. According to Key, the new immigration laws will make the country more secure against mass groups of people smugglers. Currently New Zealand does not have a mandatory detention policy. This is very different to the policy in Australia where illegal immigrants are routinely detained for long periods of time.

No boats carrying asylum seekers have ever completed the dangerous journey to New Zealand, although several have tried. Recently there was an attempt by 10 Chinese asylum seekers who ended up changing route and instead making their asylum claim in Australia.

"The recent events in Darwin show that New Zealand is a target for dangerous and illegal mass arrivals by boat. We need to be prepared," said Guy. "[The new law] means Immigration New Zealand will be able to focus on managing immediate risks, rather than being tied up in paperwork and clogging up the courts. A mass arrival would likely include people whose identities are unknown or in doubt, so it is necessary to use detention to manage the security risks."

There were three major changes to the immigration laws. One of the changes is the introduction of new "group warrants" for "mass arrivals". This measure is intended to detain groups of above 11 and up to around 500 under a group warrant without the necessity of individual warrants. This will facilitate the processing of individuals considered potential security risks; such as where identity is unknown or in doubt; where possible links to criminal or terrorist organizations is suspected. The Prime Minister said this would enable New Zealand immigration officials "to focus on managing immediate risks rather than getting tied up in paperwork and clogging up the courts".

The second change will require successful asylum applicants to be reassessed three years after making their claim before being allowed permanent residency.

The final change will place a limit on family reunification for mass arrivals. This means successful asylum applicants granted refugee status will be allowed to sponsor immediate family such as spouse or children, but extended family such as parents of an adult refugee or adult siblings would not be eligible to be sponsored. These changes will only apply to illegal mass arrivals.

The bill will have its first reading in coming weeks and, according to Guy, it will be passed before the end of the year.

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