New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has issued a formal apology for the historic racist policing of the people of the Pacific and offered scholarships to Pacific students.
Hundreds of people gathered at Auckland City Hall on Sunday to hear apologies for the 1970s “dawn raids” in which authorities sought visa overruns.
The practice took place under New Zealand’s two main political parties, starting with Labor Prime Minister Norman Kirk and continuing under Robert Muldoon of the National.
Studies have since shown that people in the Pacific were no more likely to exceed their visas than migrants from the United States and the United Kingdom, but were much more likely to be prosecuted.
State-sponsored discrimination and the deportations that followed separated families and devastated communities.
“It was so painful,” said Aupito William Sio, the Minister for the Peoples of the Pacific, who experienced the raids.
“Some nights it was 3 or 4 in the morning … there was a slamming noise at the front door and in [the police would] to come.
“I remember walking down our street and some of the other older kids teasing us. They said “go home, coconut.” It was the atmosphere.
“Even today my dad can’t talk about it… so many people felt so ashamed.
The apology featured many traditional elements of the Pacific and Aotearoa.
After a powhiri – with speeches, chants and the Maori “hongi” salute between community and government leaders – Ardern addressed the packed house in four languages: te reo Maori, Tongan, Samoan and English.
“I stand before you as a representative of those who have harmed you,” she said in Samoan.
“While no amount of rain can remove the bitter salt from the ocean waters, I ask that you allow our spiritual connection to ease your pain and allow forgiveness to flow on this day. “
As many in the crowd were crying, Ardern said she has felt the effects of the dawn raids these days.
“It remains etched in the memory of those who were directly affected. She survives in the breakdown of trust and faith in the authorities, and she survives in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities.
“Today, I represent the New Zealand government in offering a formal and wholehearted apology to the communities of the Pacific for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the dawn raids.”
Ardern said she wanted to “open a new dawn” for Pacific communities and announced NZ $ 3.1 million in scholarships for Pacific students in New Zealand and the region.
The government will also make dawn raids part of the history agenda and support artists and historians in the Pacific to create an official record of abuse.
Sunday’s official apology follows two more from former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
The first was for Chinese immigrants who have been asked for many years to pay a specific tax, and the second was in Samoa for mistreatment during the colonial administration of New Zealand.