Humanitarian action to protect public health

  • Pete Hodgson

The government is taking action to protect the health of New Zealanders, and Zimbabweans in New Zealand who have fled the Mugabe regime, Health Minister Pete Hodgson and Immigration Minister David Cunliffe announced today.

Cabinet agreed to a Special Zimbabwe Residence Policy (SRP) in 2005 in response to the humanitarian crisis under Robert Mugabe. About 500 Zimbabweans have been granted residence under the SRP, but many who are eligible have yet to come forward to apply for residence.

It is believed that some of these potential residents are not coming forward because of uncertainty around their HIV status following a policy change to require mandatory HIV screening before approving residence applications.

Zimbabweans here under the SRP will be offered residency regardless of their health status if they apply by next February 28 and meet other standard requirements.

"Under successive governments, New Zealand has been at the forefront of adopting a proactive and pragmatic approach to the management of HIV/AIDS," Pete Hodgson said. "We are now faced with a situation where people may be putting their health, and the health of others, at risk because of a government policy - we cannot accept that.

"We are doing this because it's the right thing to do to protect the health of New Zealanders and of those Zimbabweans seeking to become New Zealanders. When people know about their HIV status, we can be much more successful at containing the spread of the virus."

Cabinet has set a closing date of February 28, 2007 for applications under the Special Residence Policy (SRP), established in July 2005 for Zimbabweans here before October 2004. Temporary permits would be extended to provide time for residence applications to be decided.

"Cabinet also agreed to offer residence to these individuals regardless of their health status as long as they meet other requirements, such as being of good character as shown by police and other checks," Mr Cunliffe said.

"This waiver recognises we expect that some of the people who apply will not meet the acceptable standard of health criteria, particularly given the higher rate of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

"About 800 people eligible for the SRP have still not applied, and there is anecdotal information that for some of them fear of finding out they have HIV through the health screening immigration policy requires, and then having their applications rejected, is the reason they have not come forward. We have applications on hand for the Special Residence Policy where people have declared they have HIV."

Mr Cunliffe said the decision was made for both public health and humanitarian reasons.

"This is an exceptional case, made for a group of people who might be unable to go home, and who without this decision couldn't stay here lawfully. Without the certainty of the Government decision, people could have gone underground, with negative consequences for them and for New Zealand."