It’s time Govt made sure refugees get a fair go

Would it be possible for a person to be detained without trial or charge for more than three years in a New Zealand prison? No way. Our democratic freedoms would prevent it. This is not Stalinist Russia, or a CIA rendering facility. This is New Zealand where we give people a fair go. Right? Wrong!

Iranian Amir Mohebbi has been imprisoned for more than three years in Auckland’s Mount Eden jail after he was detained there on January 20, 2004.

Amir came to New Zealand 10 years ago and applied to be accepted as a refugee. In the time this took he settled down, fell in love with Maryam and began a family. He has three New Zealand children – Monica, seven, Milad, five, and Merila, three. Merila has never known a father who is not in jail.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe wants to deport Amir because his application for refugee status was declined.

However, it is not safe for Amir to return to Iran with his family. He is a Christian convert who knows the Bible better than the Catholic priest (according to the priest himself) who takes mass every week at the prison.

It’s a similar situation to that of Thomas Yadegary who was released on bail this year after more than two years in detention. Another Iranian in a similar situation, Ali Panah, has been on a hunger strike for the past four weeks to protest his 18-month detention.

He became an Anglican before arriving here from South Korea. He was taken to hospital last week in a weak condition and still refusing food. The Government says he will be released only if he agrees to leave the country within six weeks.

Ali’s employer is angry and appalled. He has been actively supporting Ali and finds it incongruous that the Government could be so callous towards such a decent, hard-working person who has in effect, through his hard work and good citizenship, made himself a New Zealander. Ali’s Anglican vicar agrees.

Amnesty International says it is not safe for people in Amir’s and Ali’s situation to return to Iran at present. In a commonsense way they say the Government should issue these men temporary visas to remain in New Zealand until the situation in Iran changes and their lives are no longer at risk.

But like a moron without a moral compass the Government blunders blindly on.

Compare for a moment the situation of Amir and Ali with that of the young foreigners arriving to work in Queenstown where the welcome mat has been put down and they can get a work permit in 48 hours. And what about the wealthy investors who bring big sums of money here? They are welcomed with a red carpet even if their commitment to New Zealand is no thicker than a wad of notes.

Or compare the Government’s hard-heartedness towards these Iranian families with its attitude to white Zimbabwean farmers just a few years back. The Government had the welcome mat down even before the first white farm was occupied.

But no Kiwi welcome for these hapless Iranians. They are not welcome because they are not white, not wealthy and not able to survive in Queenstown with their families on the minimum wage.

This is our New Zealand and our immigration policy. Sucks to be us!

David Cunliffe announced last week a major rewrite of our immigration policy which included the claim, “We will have a robust new international protection regime, a world-class independent appeals system, and a model detention system that will uphold human rights and high standards of fairness. The bill is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights.”

What pathetic, transparent drivel. If these words meant anything Cunliffe would use his discretion to release these Iranian detainees.

Instead of improving the situation the proposed bill will make matters worse.

Under Cunliffe’s proposals the very problem created by the Ahmed Zaoui case would be extended to all prospective immigrants and refugees. They will all now be open to having classified information from any unnamed source, either foreign or local, used against them without having the right to see the information.

If we have learned anything from the so-called war on terror it is surely that foreign intelligence organisations, as well as our own, cannot be trusted to provide reliable, unbiased information.

If information against a person is valid then it will stand close scrutiny in the light of day. Otherwise it has no place in a democratic process.

Meanwhile, the minister’s staff work overtime to pressure the lawyers acting for these Iranian men to make no public comment about these cases. Unless lawyers “play the secrecy game” they will miss out on potentially lucrative referrals from immigration ministry staff.

A country’s immigration policy probably shows its unvarnished, underlying attitudes better than any other area. Heaven help us if Cunliffe’s practices are a true reflection of New Zealanders.