NZ at risk of breaching Refugee Convention obligations

Press Release – Amnesty International

The New Zealand government’s introduction of changes to the Immigration Act represent a deeply concerning trend that ignores the violent and terrifying situations these people are fleeing says Amnesty International.Amnesty International Public Statement
for immediate release
30 April 2012
New Zealand government at risk of breaching its obligations under the Refugee Convention

The New Zealand government’s introduction of changes to the Immigration Act represent a deeply concerning trend that ignores the violent and terrifying situations these people are fleeing says Amnesty International.

“Such changes show a total disregard for our country’s legal and moral responsibility to offer protection to asylum seekers and are in fact in breach of New Zealand’s obligations under the Refugee Convention,” says Rebecca Emery, Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“It is disappointing that the Immigration Minister has used the term “queue jumper”, as in fact the queue is a myth – there is no queue for those who are fleeing persecution.”

“People have a fundamental legal right in International and New Zealand law to seek asylum.”

Amnesty International is deeply concerned with the proposals that will provide the Government with the power of mass detention. The organisation understands the need for security, health and identity checks but emphasises that these need to be done on an individual basis.

“This proposed legislation would introduce the kind of system that has been disastrous for Australia and it is the very system that they are trying to get away from,” says Rebecca Emery.

“It is using a sledgehammer approach to a non-existent problem, the numbers of asylum seekers New Zealand deals with each year are tiny, on average 300 a year and mostly arriving by plane.”

“The reason people haven’t been arriving here by boat is because of New Zealand’s geographical location. It has nothing to do with being a ‘soft touch’”.

As a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, New Zealand has an international legal obligation to assess the claims of any asylum seekers who arrive in New Zealand, no matter how they arrive. They have committed to providing protection to those who are genuine refugees.

“Asylum seekers are not breaking the law. Nobody wants to be a refugee, the 10 Chinese Asylum Seekers who arrived in Darwin earlier this month were fleeing from situations of torture that Amnesty had previously voiced concern on,” says Rebecca Emery.

“While New Zealand accepts an annual quota of 750 refugees through the UN system, this should not be confused with those that claim asylum at the border.”

“Accepting one boatload of asylum seekers is not going to see our country suddenly overrun by a flood of refugees. In the last five years, an average of 250 asylum seekers have arrived each year in New Zealand.”

“The New Zealand government must ensure that these changes do not breach its obligations to provide genuine protection to those who need it.”

“If New Zealand wants to address the issue of people smuggling, in a manner both durable and humane, it would do better to work globally to address the reasons that force asylum seekers onto boats – grave human rights abuses in their countries of origin,” adds Rebecca Emery.
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