New Zealand has received fresh criticism for the prolonged detention of people in asylum and immigration enforcement procedures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Asylum Seekers Support Trust and other civil society observers have criticised the government’s handling of detained asylum seekers, as well as the lack of support provided those granted status. During the pandemic, many people have been unable to apply for benefits or employment. Prison detainees facing deportation, as well as long-term overstayers, have also reported facing longer periods in confinement stemming from COVID-19 travel restrictions.
New Zealand’s migration-related detention procedures have received criticism since before the pandemic started. In early 2019, Amnesty International reported: “As of March , there were eight asylum seekers held in a correctional facility alongside criminal remand prisoners. Under law, asylum seekers could be detained if they were considered to pose a risk to national security or if there were doubts as to their identities or risks of them absconding. Lawyers and support agencies remained concerned about their safety, well-being, and length of time in detention”.
While New Zealand appears to place comparatively few people in immigration detention, detention stays are often extremely long. According to one report, during 2015-2019, “the average detention of the 86 people held in these situations was 166 days. Eleven of those have spent more than 400 days in prison. The longest period an asylum-seeker has been held in a New Zealand prison is 1178 days – or just over three years” (S. Kilgallon, 27.12.20).
In December 2020, 1News reported on the case of a man detained for three years: “1 NEWS can reveal the man spent three years and one month in prison while waiting for his claim to be processed, which turned out to be valid. In 2017, he was arrested and sent to Waikeria Prison to be processed for deportation. That’s when he claimed asylum. He was never charged and was held in the remand wing of the prison. Applications for asylum were twice rejected and Immigration New Zealand deemed him at risk of absconding. In a statement, it said the man’s detention was drawn out because he had made multiple appeals. It said the system is meant for people claiming asylum on arrival, or while they’re legally here. [Amnesty International] put pressure on Immigration NZ and in March of this year the man was released. Out of jail, the man found it much easier to gather evidence for his claim, and in September, on his third appeal, he was granted protected person status by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.”
Another case, of a 29-year old Somali called Yayha who had claimed asylum at Auckland International Airport, was reported in the New Zealand Herald, where he described the trauma he experienced at the hands of the prisoners at Mt. Eden Correctional Facility during his 6-month detention. Newshub reported a case of a person detained for 17 months at Mt. Eden, in contrast to the 28 days that his lawyer had told him.
After 13 March 2020, the government stopped accepting its yearly quota of refugees. In October 2020, a small number of emergency priority refugee cases were accepted, 50 of whom had arrived by 26 January 2021. On 5 February 2021, Immigration New Zealand announced the limited resumption of the quota refugee resettlement, starting with 35 arrivals in February to be housed in the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre.
- Amnesty International, “Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review of 2019,” https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA0113542020ENGLISH.PDF
- C. Norman, “Asylum Seeker Imprisoned for over Three Years Seeks Compensation for Breach of Human Rights,” 1 News, 13 December 2020, https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/asylum-seeker-imprisoned-over-three-years-seeks-compensation-breach-human-rights
- Global Detention Project, “New Zealand Immigration Detention Profile,” June 2016, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/new_zealand_detention_profile_june_2016.pdf
- H. Cardwell, “Deportees Waiting More than 200 Days Behind Bars due to Covid-19 Travel Disruption,” RNZ, 14 December 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/432764/deportees-waiting-more-than-200-days-behind-bars-due-to-covid-19-travel-disruption
- K. Mesilamani, “Asylum Seekers say New Zealand’s Immigration Process Leaves them Scarred,” Newshub, 9 August 2020, https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/08/asylum-seekers-say-new-zealand-s-immigration-process-leaves-them-scarred.html
- L. Walters, “Refugee Community Criticises Lack of Plan,” Newsroom, 2 February 2021, https://www.newsroom.co.nz/refugee-community-criticises-lack-of-govt-plan
- New Zealand Herald, “Amnesty International Calls for End to Jailing Asylum Seekers,” 15 June 2020, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/amnesty-international-calls-for-end-to-jailing-asylum-seekers/IVJBMTXRWTDA7WPCMBCCRN2HWI/
- New Zealand Immigration, “Refugee Quota to Resume on a Limited Basis,” 5 February 2021, https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/media-centre/media-releases/refugee-quota-to-resume-on-a-limited-basis
- RNZ, “NZ’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers Worse Under Labour Govt,” 25 May 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/first-up/audio/2018747801/nz-s-treatment-of-asylum-seekers-worse-under-labour-govt
- S. Kilgallon, “No Crime, no Charge – the Asylum Seekers Welcomed to NZ with Jailtime,” stuff, 27 December 2020, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/123786697/no-crime-no-charge–the-asylum-seekers-welcomed-to-nz-with-jailtime