Appropriation (2002/03 Estimates) Bill (Committee stage) – Vote Immigration

I would like to speak to Vote Immigration on behalf of the Green Party, particularly in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.

It is good to see that extra money is being devoted to refugee resettlement projects. The money has been increased by $332,000, with an additional category for Tampa refugees of another $256,000. There is a lot of room for improvement because of the considerable difficulties that refugees still have in the area of housing, in obtaining employment, and in learning the English language. But unfortunately an extra $1.062 million being spent on resettlement is being devoted to detaining asylum seekers.

Now I am sure that the Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, will say that we do not need to worry too much because the Mangere facility where most of the asylum seekers are detained is well run and the detainees are well looked after. Sometimes the detainees can get leave to go out with members of their own ethnic communities. I have been around the facility, and I agree that if one has to be detained the Mangere centre is not a bad place to be detained. But the truth is that any human being–and from my experience this includes all the asylum seekers I have met at Mangere, or who have been at Mangere–would prefer not to be detained or have their freedom limited.

On 27 June, Justice Baragwanath QC ruled that by moving from a situation of 5 percent of asylum seekers arriving at our border being detained before 11 September 2001 to a rate of 94 percent afterwards, the Government was in breach of the 1951 refugee convention, which prescribed that asylum seekers should be detained only when “necessary”. The convention provision makes absolute sense because asylum seekers are fleeing persecution. Often they have psychological trauma and should not be subject to us imposing an extra trauma on them by detainment. The convention clearly states that detaining where “necessary” does not mean detaining people who do not have full evidence of identity.

As one judge quoted on the decision made by Justice Baragwanath QC said: “The combined effect of visa requirements and carrier’s liability has made it well nigh impossible for refugees to travel to countries of refuge without false documents.” Before 11 September we did not have a problem of undocumented asylum seekers not staying in the system without detention because they had a vested interest in trying to get refugee status for residence, and were determined to get through the system. The convention, in effect, stated that communities must take a bit of a risk to help asylum seekers, and imprison only those who show a real risk of offending or absconding.

After the decision of Justice Baragwanath QC on 27 June, the Government declared it would appeal, and the appeal was held in Wellington last week. In the meantime the Government should still have obeyed that decision, and it is a very important constitutional question that Governments do so. But the Government thumbed its nose at the High Court decision, and the figures tell the story.

In replies to written questions, which I received on 6 November, over a period of more than 4 months since the High Court decision of 27 June, of the 61 people who arrived at the border without full proof of identity, 58 were detained including children. One cannot say that there was a real risk that those children would offend or abscond. The Government should not defy a High Court decision in that way, but adopt a humanitarian policy in line with the 1951 refugee convention. We should not be scared by all the anti-terrorist hysteria that has gone on since 11 September, and say “well, one of these asylum seekers may be a terrorist, therefore we have to detain them all.” That leads one down a very bad track, just as it did in Australia recently where the intelligence service has been bashing people’s windows and doors down.