Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - New Zealand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - New Zealand , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 23 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.

New Zealand hosted 2,700 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001. These included 769 refugees admitted from overseas, 507 persons granted asylum during the year, and 1,424 persons with pending asylum claims.


During calendar year 2001, some 1,600 persons filed asylum claims with the Refugee Status Branch (RSB) of New Zealand. Persons from Thailand, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka filed the largest numbers of asylum claims.

The RSB adjudicated 2,495 asylum claims during the year, approving 467 (18.7 percent) and denying 2,028. The largest numbers of approvals were for persons from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Iran. At year's end, 1,424 claims were pending a first-instance decision.

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority decided 944 appeals, approving 40 (4.2 percent) and denying 904.

Asylum applicants are eligible for government-funded legal representation. Although the government does not provide housing directly to asylum applicants, 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 seekers who are not in detention may receive one work permit per family while their claims are pending, and their children may attend school.

In November, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel announced that the immigration service had reduced the asylum processing time from two or three years to two months since she became minister.

Ethnic Chinese from Indonesia continued their public battle to stay in New Zealand, claiming to fear a reprise of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia in which ethnic Chinese were targeted. As many as 1,500 Chinese Indonesians fled to New Zealand in 1998 and subsequently overstayed their visas. Many, being Christian, also feared the more recent violence between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.

In January 2001, media reports said that New Zealand had not granted asylum to a group of 200 Chinese Indonesians who had applied collectively, and that the group had gone into hiding to avoid deportation. Dalziel asserted that the applicants did not meet the criteria for refugee status.


New Zealand's Immigration Amendment Bill, adopted in 1999, provides that asylum seekers in the country unlawfully may be detained indefinitely while their cases are being adjudicated. The law gives immigration officials the discretion to deny temporary visas to asylum seekers, which effectively leads to detention. However, according to UNHCR, New Zealand officials have "exercised this discretion with much restraint," thereby granting temporary visas to most asylum seekers.

Refugee advocates in Australia and New Zealand often compare the two countries' detention policies. Australia detains virtually all asylum seekers with little or no opportunity for release prior to final adjudication. New Zealand, by contrast, often lets asylum seekers live and work in the community, and provides access to welfare services while their cases are assessed. Dalziel has noted, "We have an appropriate response for the number we get. Australia gets them by the thousands, we get them by the hundreds."

However, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, New Zealand tightened its detention policies for asylum seekers arriving without valid travel or identity documents. The new procedure involves two levels of detention. After an initial assessment, the asylum seeker is held in either a penal institution or in a more open center, depending on security concerns and questions of identity. Since the policy began, almost all newly arrived asylum seekers have been detained – most at the Mangere facility (where resettled refugees are initially housed), with a few placed in the Mt. Eden Remand Prison. Refugee and human rights groups have initiated legal challenges to the new procedures.


For fiscal year 2001, which ended June 30, New Zealand admitted 769 "quota' refugees from overseas through referrals from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The largest numbers came from Burma (25 percent), Somalia (19 percent), and Ethiopia (18 percent).

New Zealand houses the refugees for six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Reception Center in Auckland, a converted World War II army barracks, where the refugees receive orientation and English instruction. After six weeks, refugees are placed into communities around the country, usually with sponsors to help them adjust. The refugees may apply for state housing and are entitled to work permits, welfare benefits, and all other rights of New Zealand residents.

In late September, New Zealand admitted 131 Afghan asylum seekers (families and unaccompanied minors) who had been among more than 400 Afghans taken by the Australian government to the island nation of Nauru as part of Australia's "Pacific Solution" to prevent "unauthorized" boat arrivals on Australian territory. New Zealand was the first country to offer to accept some of the Australia-bound migrants while they were still at sea during a stalemate with Australia.

New Zealand housed the Afghan asylum seekers at Mangere and screened them for refugee status, eventually approving all but one as refugees. The government counted those approved toward its refugee resettlement ceiling of 750.

"Selective Amnesty"

In October 2000, a new law that could affect asylum seekers came into force. 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 2000 – one month before the law became effective – the government announced a "selective amnesty" program to mitigate the law's impact on certain "well-settled" New Zealand residents. Under the program, 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 apply to legalize their status. The amnesty 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 the amnesty 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 staged a hunger strike, expressing anger at being excluded from the amnesty program.

When the amnesty ended in March, about 6,000 persons (out of an estimated 18,000 to 22,000 overstayers) were expected to be granted permanent visas.

Other Developments

In September, reports that a group of Indian and Middle Eastern men had stowed away into New Zealand on a container ship raised fears that New Zealand, like Australia, could become enmeshed in the issue of global human smuggling. Australia's tough stance against the "unauthorized" arrival of migrants also raised concerns that New Zealand could become an increasingly popular destination. In October, a New Zealand customs official said the government might have to boost its border patrols, because the customs agency had only one boat dedicated to border protection. Near the end of the year, Australia's foreign minister warned that New Zealand could indeed become a target for smugglers now that Australia was "turning off the tap" and added that, despite its isolation, New Zealand could not afford to be complacent about the issue.

Australia has long worried that New Zealand could become a back-door route for asylum seekers to reach Australia. Persons granted residence in New Zealand may obtain citizenship after three years, and New Zealand citizens are permitted to move to Australia. However, under legislative changes made in Australia in February, New Zealand citizens must wait at least two years and satisfy certain criteria before they may apply for Australian residency (previously, they obtained residency automatically after two years), and they may obtain welfare only if granted residency.

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