Most New Zealanders have never heard of Thomas Yadegary. The government would like to keep it that way because his story is one of its best kept and nastiest political secrets.
Thomas is an Iranian who has been in detention without trial for the past 23 months in Auckland’s Mt Eden prison. He arrived in New Zealand in 1993 as a political asylum seeker. While waiting for his case to be considered he studied English and trained as a chef working in top Auckland hotels. He worked hard, paid taxes, saved money, made lots of friends and became a Catholic. He even had his photo taken with Bill Clinton on one of Clinton’s visits to New Zealand (see photo attached) His application was turned down but he appealed at each opportunity hoping and praying he would be successful. All appeals failed however and on 1 November 2004 he was detained and taken to Mt Eden prison to await deportation.
One of the ironies is that because Iran is not a safe place for him the government requires his agreement to be deported before he can be put on a plane. In other words the government needs political cover in the likely event he is arrested, attacked or killed on his forced return to Iran. However Thomas has refused to endanger his life by signing an agreement to be deported despite huge pressure on him from immigration officials.
He is effectively being kept hostage in prison – to be released only if he agrees to be deported to Iran! Every 28 days he comes before the District Court where Immigration Ministry lawyers argue vigorously for his ongoing detention, because he is “uncooperative” and the judges duly rubber-stamp his on-going incarceration. This is the type of human rights abuse New Zealand governments of all persuasions have condemned in many countries around the world over many years.
In his various appeals Thomas has had the strong support of a wide circle of friends and his Christian community which includes support from his Catholic bishop. Although I have never met him I have no reason to believe he is anything but the honest, hard-working, fun-loving person most of us would be delighted to have as a next-door neighbour.
Thomas made a final appeal to the Minister of Immigration but last week the Associate Minister of Immigration, Clayton Cosgrove, rejected it. In three brief sentences Cosgrove washed his hands of the case and Thomas’s two-year old legal limbo continues.
In another irony, MP David Cunliffe wrote a glowing letter of support for Thomas and said he would do all he could to support him. Cunliffe himself is now the Minister of Immigration and deaf to all appeals on Thomas’s behalf. Such is the corrupting influence of expedient politics on moral behaviour.
Thomas has been deeply stressed by all of this and has been under a great deal of pressure both psychologically and emotionally. Despite his out-going personality he is often depressed and suffers recurring headaches. His friends say that hope and prayers are keeping him going.
New Zealand immigration policy has always been an ugly mix of prejudice, political expediency and plain racism. The infamous dawn raids carried out by the 3rd Labour government against Pacific Islanders is the most celebrated example but the open-door approach for self-confessed white supremacists from South Africa as apartheid was dismantled and the appalling treatment of the young Sri Lankan girl by Lianne Dalziel when she was Minister are also vivid examples. The 5th Labour government continues to make grubby history with the “hostage detention” of Thomas Yadegary.
It is quite impossible to believe that had Thomas been a white Zimbabwean farmer he would have been treated in such a shameful, appalling way by a country which professes support for human rights.
Why is it that Labour politicians so often lose it on immigration? Why do they keep a man who has shown himself to be an asset to the community in jail and denied any semblance of natural justice? Why is Thomas Yadegary forced to soak up tax money in jail instead of working and paying taxes?
Perhaps in some contorted way the government fears it may be perceived to be not pulling its weight in the war on terror alongside the racially-based immigration practices of Australia and the US.
Whatever the reason the outcome is a bizarre travesty of natural justice, deeply shameful to New Zealand and a disgraceful abuse of human rights. We have our own little Guantanemo Bay right here in the heart of Mount Eden courtesy of David Cunliffe and Clayton Cosgrove.