"Boat People" Bill Passed By Parliament

  • John Delamare

Immigration Minister, Hon Tuariki Delamere, says the measures in the Immigration Amendment (No.2) Bill, just passed by Parliament by a vote of 71 - 49, are a sensible response from the Government to the possible arrival of sea-borne illegal migrants.

"This is not a panic reaction. It merely brings forward the implementation of measures contained in the Immigration Amendment Act 1999.

"The Government is determined that New Zealand will uphold the integrity of our borders against illegal migrants. Boats carrying illegal migrants have already reached Australia, Canada and the United States in recent months.

"New Zealand has been planning for such a contingency and measures in the Immigration Amendment Act, passed in April 1999 and expected to be fully implemented in October 1999, were drafted to deal with such an arrival and to address the trade in illegal migrant trafficking. Australia, for example, has seen 6 boats carrying over 334 people arrive in the past year. These people are all detained in a remote facility at Port Hedland.

"The migrant trafficking provisions in the Immigration Amendment Act were included in response to concerns that New Zealand was being targeted by migrant traffickers. There is evidence that people are being escorted to New Zealand and subsequently claiming refugee status on arrival.

"In addition, the Government was fully aware of Australia's experience with organised migrant trafficking, that had led to a number of successful prosecutions of traffickers.

"It is commonly known that if you allow trafficking, you only encourage it. Part of New Zealand's obligations to the Asian region is not to create an attraction because of weak law and inappropriate processes."

The Minister said that because of concerns about illegal immigration in the Asia Pacific region, countries in the region met recently in Bangkok. Both New Zealand and the People's Republic of China were present.

"Amongst other things, the countries present agreed that they were "gravely concerned by the increasing activities of trans-national organised criminal groups and others that profit from smuggling of and trafficking in human beings". It was also agreed that countries had the sovereign right to safeguard their borders.

"This Act asserts New Zealand's rights to secure its own borders. "Whilst it is not yet certain that New Zealand is the ultimate destination of the Alexandra II, or the intentions of those on board, if those people claim refugee status in New Zealand they will be dealt with in accordance with New Zealand's obligation under the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees.

"The Government will also ensure that they have medical checks and any necessary treatment. They will have access to representation and interpreters). It is important, however, that any persons arriving in New Zealand unlawfully are placed in a secure facility until their identity, immigration and health status can be determined."