“Racist” Raids: New Zealand Apologizes to Pacific Islanders

“Racist” Raids: New Zealand Apologizes to Pacific Islanders

Wellington, New Zealand – It has been 50 years since the “dawn raids” in New Zealand and the 82-year-old father of Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio still cannot talk about it.
“How do you talk about something where you felt helpless in your own home by an authority that was supposed to take care of you and an authority that you came to serve? Said Sio.

The Dawn Raids took place in the 1970s, involving people from the Pacific Islands who had migrated to New Zealand for work in the years following World War II.

One winter morning in 1974, police – accompanied by dogs – showed up at the front door of Sio’s father’s property in Otara, Auckland. They asked everyone in the house to collect their passports to show that they were legally entitled to be in New Zealand. Dogs were barking, people were screaming, and the police chased Sio’s cousins ​​from the garage. They were taken to prison without their belongings and deported to Samoa.

Many people from the Pacific Islands moved to New Zealand after the war to boost the country’s depleted workforce. In 1976, they represented just over 2% of the country’s population, numbering 65,700 according to the national census. But they came under pressure amid the economic turmoil that rocked the country in the 1970s when the Labor government moved to crack down on immigration. Between 1974 and 1976 there were numerous raids on the homes of families in the Pacific, often early in the morning or late at night. Thousands have been arrested and deported.

After years of community lobbying – including a petition signed by 7,366 people that was presented to parliament in June – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the government would formally apologize for a policy that she says caused unrest. “Deep wounds” among New Zealand Pacific communities. .

The apologies are scheduled for August 1, 2021.

Sio says it’s important for New Zealand to recognize selected racial profiling as part of its history.

The father of the Minister of the Peoples of the Pacific, Aupito William Sio, was among those of Pacific origin who were singled out in immigration raids in the 1970s. [Courtesy of William Sio’s office]

“This is the first step towards removing the shackles of shame,” he said. “If we don’t learn and understand what happened and find excuses, the same pattern of behavior will manifest itself again. We have to accept that what happened was wrong and that it is still wrong. “

A 1986 investigation by the Race Relations Conciliator into allegations of discrimination in the enforcement of immigration laws found that between 1985 and 1986, when the peoples of the Pacific made up one-third of those who remained after the When their visa expired, they accounted for 86% of all prosecutions. By comparison, those in the United States and Great Britain, which also accounted for a third of all those who exceeded the length of stay, accounted for only 5% of all prosecutions. According to the Pacific Peoples Department, there were around 5,000 to 12,000 who had done so between 1974 and 1976.

Why now?

Benji Timu and Josiah Tualamali’i started the petition which was tabled in parliament in June after feeling frustrated that no official acknowledged the intergenerational trauma resulting from the raids, a topic that was not addressed at school, Timu told Al Jazeera.

Timu, 27, has spent the past five years learning about his identity.

Of Samoan origin, from the Cook Islands and Niue, he says he is only now learning the difficulties of his culture.

“A lot of people talk about the shame and guilt they had to endure to stay in New Zealand. I consider myself part of the privileged diaspora of the Pacific. I can speak my language and my English and I feel it is the responsibility to defend my culture, ”he said.

“It’s crazy to think that we haven’t learned this in schools. I did not receive any anti-racist education. Evil can be done and you can see that the evil has been passed down over two generations. This manifests itself in mistrust of the police and the government. And there are a lot of things that keep our people at the bottom of the ladder – be it socio-economically, educationally, or from a justice perspective. An apology is the first starting point in the process of getting it right. “

Pacific Islanders make up 8.1% of New Zealand’s five million people. National statistics going back to 2013 suggest that their median annual income was NZ $ 8,800 ($ 6,145) lower than the national median income and that in the three years from 2012 to 2014, about 28% of children in the Pacific lived in poor households, up from 16%. children of European origin.

The petition also called for the establishment of a legacy fund to honor, recognize and financially support families affected by the raids.

Cindy Kiro (left) and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (right) walk through Parliament together on Monday, May 24, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. Kiro was named the next governor general of New Zealand, the first indigenous Maori woman appointed to the post. [File: Nick Perry/AP Photo]

While it is “deeply important for the state to apologize for the wrongs that have been perpetuated by the raids and the state-sanctioned racist rhetoric, which has been designed to disparage and dehumanize the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands – Apologies are not enough, University of Auckland law professor Dylan Asafo told Al Jazeera.

Asafo refers to an election campaign ad that was broadcast on National Party television which portrayed Pacific Islanders as animal job thieves, violent, and bringing crime and civil unrest to Nova Scotia. Zealand.

The openly racist campaign helped party leader and former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon win the 1975 general election.

“It was quite traumatic to see blatant racism accepted so widely,” Asafo said. “But it was effective as Muldoon won by a landslide. State-sanctioned racism has taught a generation that it is okay to view Pacific Islanders in this light and we have not seen any policies to counter it since. “

Need for change

Now, racism secretly underlies New Zealand’s immigration laws, he says.

“There is no clear path to permanent residency for people of the Pacific and people of color. The system is designed for white migrants from rich developed countries, who are seen by the government as offering more to the economy. While people of color are seen as a burden on the economy and are relegated to temporary visas that expire, then they are denied rights and entitlements. “

The Recognized Seasonal Employers program came into effect in 2007 and was designed to allow the agricultural sector to recruit people from overseas for seasonal work. In practice, this means that residents of the Pacific Islands are invited to apply for the program, given the mediocre salaries and despite playing a valuable role in New Zealand, are denied the right to live. in the country permanently and are forced to return to their country of origin, said Asafo.

“Pacific Islanders are forced to work in precarious conditions; they are considered as tools for their work and easy to dispose of. The system undermines the dignity of these people, ”he said.

“I think there is a racist contradiction in the fact that we are seen as part of the Pacific and recognized as New Zealand’s neighbors in an international setting. But in the context of immigration, the people of the Pacific are second-class citizens who are exploited for their work in order to fuel the labor shortage.

More than 7,000 people signed the petition which was presented to parliament in June [Sasha Borissenko/Al Jazeera]

“The government has expressed concern, but whether it is remorse or regret depends on whether appropriate measures are taken to combat the systematic dehumanization of a group of people and the impact that exists. still today. “

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said Ardern said there should be no expectations of an amnesty, noting that a pardon option had been offered in 2000 and 2001.

Ardern also noted that there are many ethnic groups and communities who would like a path to residency. The government would not want to accompany the apologies for discriminatory actions with a policy that itself discriminates by restricting eligibility to certain groups, Faafoi said.

“The government remains committed to the mechanism for recognized seasonal employers, but we have identified areas for improvement. “

A review of the scheme is currently underway by the Ministry of Enterprise, Innovation and Employment, which includes mechanisms to set ceilings and worker allowances that are fair, transparent and improve performance; ensure that workers get a fair share of the benefits of their participation and the effective management of potential consequences such as the displacement of New Zealand workers.

The review includes examining ways to strengthen compliance and minimize operational risk. It will also look at the obligations of employers in terms of caring for their workers, including the provision of adequate housing, Faafoi said.

Minister Sio said: “We are continuing to review the program and we are collecting information from the local community. I am aware of the reviews. There are two sides [that being the exploitation of foreign workers] but talk to any employer and you’ll hear a different story. We also need to be mindful and provide opportunities for our local workforce. “

For now, it’s important to recognize the damage and trauma the dawn raids have caused to a very significant part of the New Zealand community, Sio said. “People came here to be good citizens and were treated unfairly by the people who were supposed to protect them.

“I want people to feel confident in telling their story because it becomes a healing process for traumatized people. It is also important for the rest of New Zealand to communicate what happened – especially what politicians, police and immigration officials were talking about behind closed doors – so that it does not happen again. . ”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here