Mandatory group detention plans run counter to UN convention

The Human Rights Commission says proposed changes to the Immigration Act 2009 threaten New Zealand’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and potentially lack compliance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

The Immigration Minister announced amendments designed to deter a potential mass arrival of illegal migrants to New Zealand yesterday. The Commission is particularly concerned about:

  • the introduction of mandatory detention under group warrants
  • the restrictions on family reunification
  • the changes to review processes.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says New Zealand has obligations under the Refugee Convention that are separate and independent of the country’s voluntary quota of 750 refugees as part of its annual resettlement quota on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

New Zealand has obligations as a party to the Refugee Convention to:

  • ensure that people who meet the United Nations definition of refugee are granted asylum
  • not to impose any penalties on an asylum seeker based on their mode of entry to New Zealand (Article 31).

Mr de Bres says, “How an asylum seeker arrives in New Zealand should have no bearing on their right to apply for refugee status and protection.”

Mandatory detention on the basis of group warrants also raised issues of reasonableness and ultimately could amount to arbitrary detention breaching section 22 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Mr de Bres says, “Our international obligations under the convention are clear. New Zealand must protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in New Zealand, regardless of how or where they arrive, and whether they arrive with or without a visa.”

International guidance requires detention to be used only where necessary, as a matter of last resort and for the shortest periods possible. The proposed amendments seem to be at odds with international best practice and natural justice. The Commission will be making a submission on this bill through the select committee process.

Immigration Amendment Act


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