Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2018, 07:53 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - New Zealand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - New Zealand , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, New Zealand hosted more than 3,100 refugees and asylum seekers. These included 330 persons granted asylum during the year, 699 "quota" refugees admitted from overseas, and 2,118 persons with pending asylum cases.


During the year, 1,552 persons filed asylum claims with the Refugee Status Branch (RSB). According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 16 percent of those applied immediately upon arrival in New Zealand. Persons from Thailand, the Czech Republic, Iran, and Sri Lanka filed the largest numbers of asylum claims.

The RSB adjudicated 1,449 asylum claims during the year, approving 270 (18.6 percent) and denying 1,179 (81.3 percent). Another 748 claims were withdrawn. The largest numbers of approvals were for persons from Iran (75), Sri Lanka (65), Iraq (20), Kuwait (18), China (14), Afghanistan (14), and Algeria (11). At year's end, 2,118 claims were pending a first-instance decision.

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA) decided 649 asylum appeals during the year, granting asylum in 60 cases. Some 219 cases were pending appeal at year's end. Asylum applicants are eligible for government-funded legal representation.

The government does not provide housing directly to asylum applicants. However, it provides funding for the Auckland Refugee Council, which manages a hostel of about 25 beds for asylum seekers for up to three months.

Asylum applicants lawfully in New Zealand are eligible for emergency-income assistance based on need. Officials have the discretion to supplement the emergency assistance to cover other expenses such as housing and childcare.

Asylum seekers who are not in detention may receive one work permit per family while their claims are pending. Their children may attend school during this time.

Early in the year, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel said that non-genuine asylum seekers were targeting New Zealand and costing the country millions of dollars before being forced to leave. The asylum seekers, she said, were exploiting the "huge backlog" in applications, which were taking about two years to process. Many came to work, but many others were receiving what amounted to significant welfare benefits, said Dalziel. She noted that the Immigration Service had employed 25 new refugee status officers, with the goal of reducing the asylum processing period to six months. According to UNHCR, the government significantly reduced the backlog of asylum claims during the year.

Throughout the year, ethnic Chinese from Indonesia waged a public battle to stay in New Zealand. They claimed to fear a reprise of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia in which ethnic Chinese were targeted. Many, being Christian, reportedly also feared the clashes between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's Moluccan Islands. As many as 1,500 Chinese Indonesians fled to New Zealand in 1998 and subsequently overstayed their visas. As of the end of 2000, the RSB had processed 585 Indonesian claims since 1998 (presumably all or most being ethnic Chinese) but had granted none. In April, Dalziel ordered an official report on the situation of the Indonesian Chinese in New Zealand.

In October, New Zealand introduced visa requirements for nationals of Thailand and the Czech Republic. Thai nationals represented the largest number of asylum applicants in New Zealand for the second year in a row, with Czech nationals representing the second-largest group.

After the May 2000 coup in Fiji, New Zealand adopted a lenient policy of issuing temporary visas to nationals of Fiji. It also deferred the decisions in all Fijian asylum claims for six months following the coup. After resuming the adjudications, New Zealand did not grant asylum to any Fijians.


In 1999, New Zealand enacted the Immigration Amendment Bill, which, among other things, provides that asylum seekers in the country unlawfully may be detained indefinitely while their cases are being adjudicated. The government approved the legislation with urgency because of reports that a boat carrying Chinese nationals was headed for New Zealand. Dalziel, who was Labor Party immigration spokesperson at the time of the law's enactment, said the bill was a panic measure and an abuse of Parliament. She also said the previous law's 28-day allowable period for detaining asylum seekers was sufficient.

The law gives immigration officials the discretion to deny temporary visas to asylum seekers, which effectively leads to detention. According to UNHCR, New Zealand officials have "exercised this discretion with much restraint," thereby granting temporary visas to most asylum seekers. In 2000, approximately 13 percent of newly arrived asylum seekers were initially detained. Amnesty International noted that, since the change of administration, the number of asylum seekers held in detention had fallen significantly.

In July, the Court of Appeals, in effect, upheld the Immigration Service's right to detain asylum seekers when it overturned a lower court decision that 13 men from India, Pakistan, and Iran who arrived in Australia and claimed refugee status should have been given temporary visas. The plaintiffs held a one-month hunger strike to protest their detention.

The decision allowed immigration authorities continued discretion regarding detention.

Quota Refugees

For the year 2000, New Zealand established a ceiling of 750 "quota" refugees to be admitted from overseas through referrals from UNHCR. A total of 699 refugees arrived during the year. The largest numbers came from Burma (207), Somalia (143), Ethiopia (72), and Sudan (53).

Upon arrival, refugees are housed for six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Reception Center, run by the New Zealand Immigration Service. At the center, they receive orientation and basic English instruction. They may subsequently apply for state housing.

"Selective Amnesty"

On October 1, a new law that could affect asylum seekers came into effect. Enacted as part of the 1999 Immigration Amendment Bill, the law provides that anyone who has overstayed a visa by more than 42 days can be deported immediately with no right of appeal. In September, in an effort to mitigate the law's impact on certain "well-settled" New Zealand residents, the government announced that overstayers who had been in the country for at least five years, were married to a New Zealand citizen, or had New Zealand-born children could be eligible to legalize their status. This "selective amnesty" program was to run through March 2001.

Asylum seekers with pending claims were not among the groups to whom the amnesty applied. Dalziel said that applying it to asylum seekers would undermine the integrity of the UN Refugee Convention. "Any action taken cannot allow the Convention to be used as a back-door method to gaining residence in New Zealand," she said.

In response, some 50 ethnic Chinese asylum seekers began a hunger strike demanding to be granted permanent residence. The protest organizer said the new immigration law left many asylum seekers fearing that they would be arrested and deported, and that they were angry at being excluded from the amnesty program. The hunger strike resulted in the hospitalization of at least 12 persons. Dalziel said she would review the case of any asylum seeker who might meet the amnesty criteria.

Other Developments

Following political strife in Zimbabwe, New Zealand announced in April that it would ease visa restrictions for some Zimbabweans. The new policy primarily benefited Zimbabweans with family members in New Zealand who intended to apply for permanent residence under family reunion.

Throughout 2000, New Zealand officials, like their Australian counterparts, expressed concern about the consequences of international human smuggling. Of particular concern was the smuggling of thousands of people from the Middle East to New Zealand and Australia by way of Indonesia.

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