Migrants, refugees and newcomers

Your rights

Everyone is entitled to human rights, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. If you are in New Zealand, you are covered.

How you can expect to be treated

  • We all have the right to the equal enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights
  • We all have the right to enjoy one's culture and to use one's own language
  • We all have the right to freedom of religion and belief.
  • We all have the right to be treated with respect, dignity and equity.  We also have the right to not be harassed, taunted or teased because of our colour, our accent, the way we dress, the food we eat or anything else related to our race or ethnicity.

Racial harassment  and discrimination is behaviour that is racist, hurtful or offensive and either repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect on you. Many people experience unfair treatment and racism because of how they look or where they come from. Racial discrimination can also be subtle, creating systemic barriers that lock people out of social and economic opportunities. 

The Human Rights Act makes this unlawful when it occurs in:

  • government or state sector activities
  • public education and health services
  • employment
  • business partnerships
  • industrial and professional associations
  • qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies
  • access to public places, vehicle and facilities
  • access to goods and services
  • access to land, housing and accommodation
  • and access to education.

If you experience or indirect discrimination you can complain  to the Human Rights Commission. Find our more information about using your rights here. You can also read the Commission's Racial harassment guide (PDF).

What laws protect your rights

The Human Rights Act and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) exist to promote and the protect our rights.

The Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the ground of colour, race, ethnicity, or national origin in any of the prohibited areas of public life. Read more here.

The Bill of Rights Act covers general human rights such as freedom of expression and the right to work and education. The Human Rights Act covers unlawful discrimination (for example, on the basis of age, colour or gender). Other laws that deal with human rights issues include the Treaty of Waitangi and the Privacy Act.

New Zealand ratified CERD in 1972 which means you should not be treated differently  based on where you were born, what ethnicity you identify as and the colour of your skin. CERD also requires New Zealand to outlaw hate speech and criminalise membership in racist organisations as well as promote understanding between all New Zealanders. 

New Zealand is also one of over 120 countries that signed the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. New Zealand also has protection obligations under the 1984 Convention Against Torture and 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Read more about these laws here.

The New Zealand Government also has a refugee quota programme which offers 750 places per year. Quota refugees resettled in New Zealand can apply under the quota for family reunification with spouses and dependent children mandated as refugees by UNHCR . Read more here.

The Immigration Act 2009 is an important law for both migrants and refugees. Specifically, New Zealand must by protect persons who have a fear of persecution if returned to their country.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can either view our Enquiries, Complaints, and Support section or our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Newcomers in New Zealand report

The Commission published a comprehensive report card on the state of Human Rights in New Zealand: Human rights and race relations – Whakawhanaungatanga a iwi.

You can read the chapters no migrants and refugees here:

Visit this section for more info about Newcomers.

What you can do about racial harassment

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

Speak to the person who is harassing you and tell them you want them to stop, otherwise you will complain. You can do this in person, in a letter, or with a union or other representative. If this doesn’t work, or is inappropriate, you can seek advice and assistance from:

  • a racial harassment contact person (many workplaces have a harassment policy)
  • a manager or school counsellor
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • your union representative or a lawyer
  • a professional disciplinary body
  • the police
  • the Employment Relations Service (if you have been harassed at work).
  • Phone 0800 20 90 20.

Other organisations and individuals who can help you with initial advice and clarification include your local Member of Parliament or Community Law Centre.

Learn more about Representation for Newcomers here.

What the Commission can do

We can advise you on whether your complaint is covered by the Human Rights Act and if it is we can help with mediation.

If mediation doesn’t work, we can advise you on your legal options. Learn more in our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section, or call our Infoline on 0800 496 877. Our service is free and confidential.

The main focus of our service is on resolving disputes involving unlawful discrimination, such as on the grounds of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability. But we can also help you with advice on broader human rights issues.

What happens if you think your human rights have been breached

If you think you have suffered a breach of your human rights, our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section has more information about how we can help, and your options.

If your complaint involves discrimination and we cannot resolve it informally, you will be entitled to ask the Office of Human Rights Proceedings to provide you with free legal representation.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can view our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Celebrating your rights

New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth. The Commission facilitates a number of events that allow you to celebrate our nations diversity. You can learn about them here.