Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 15:22 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - New Zealand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - New Zealand , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 18 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 approximately 1,700 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002. These included about 750 refugees admitted from overseas, more than 500 persons granted asylum during the year, and nearly 450 persons with pending asylum claims.


For fiscal year 2001–2002, which ended June 30, New Zealand admitted some 750 refugees from overseas through referrals from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some 200 of the refugees were admitted from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, having been transported there by the Australian government under the so-called "Pacific Solution."

In April, New Zealand decided it would admit more refugees from the Asia-Pacific region – including Afghans and Iraqis in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Nauru. Immigration officials said they wanted to ease the burden for transit countries in the region and encourage asylum seekers to seek refugee status rather than use people smugglers. Opposition politicians accused the government of rewarding "queue-jumpers" rather than taking genuine refugees from countries of first asylum.

New Zealand houses newly arrived 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.


During calendar year 2002, nearly 1,000 persons filed asylum claims with the Refugee Status Branch (RSB) of New Zealand. The RSB adjudicated more than 2,000 asylum claims during the year (including claims pending from the previous year), approving 440 (21 percent) and denying more than 1,600. Another 68 claims were granted on appeal. At year's end, 449 claims were pending a first-instance decision.

Asylum applicants are eligible for government-funded legal representation. Although the government does not provide housing directly to asylum applicants, it funds two hostels for asylum seekers.

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.


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, thereby leading to detention. However, according to UNHCR, in the first two years after the legislation New Zealand officials "exercised this discretion with much restraint" and granted temporary visas to most asylum seekers.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, New Zealand tightened its detention policies for asylum seekers arriving without valid travel or identity documents. Since then, nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers have been detained, in either a penal institution or a more open center (usually the Mangere facility where resettled refugees are initially housed), depending on security concerns.

The government treats with priority the claims of asylum seekers who are detained, generally making a decision within four weeks, according to the New Zealand Immigration Service. On occasion, a detained asylum seeker is released – with or without conditions – pending a decision.

In May 2002, a New Zealand court heard arguments that New Zealand's post-September 2001 detention policy violated international and domestic law by forcing refugee applicants to leave New Zealand to avoid being jailed or detained. A lawyer arguing the case said the policy change had resulted in 94 percent of asylum applicants being detained upon arrival – often for several weeks – compared with less than five percent detained under the old policy.

In July, the judge ruled that the mass detention policy was "fundamentally defective" and violated the Refugee Convention. The judge emphasized that restrictions on the movements of asylum seekers should be the minimum necessary. The ruling opened the door to compensation claims by hundreds of asylum seekers. A government appeal was pending at year's end.

Prior to the ruling, the parliament approved an immigration bill that provides for the conditional release of certain asylum applicants. When asylum applicants are released on conditions, the government may require them to reside at a government-funded hostel, or may allow them to stay with families or elsewhere.

Other Developments

Following Australia's lead, New Zealand launched a public information campaign in June to discourage asylum seekers from trying to reach New Zealand by boat. In pamphlets distributed at Indonesian ports, New Zealand warned potential migrants, "The voyage would take at least a month and you would be cold, ill, and miserable. But you probably won't even make it. You and your relatives would more likely drown in the attempt."

New Zealand also finalized contingency plans for boat arrivals, given fears that Australia's hard-line policies would prompt asylum seekers toward other destinations. Officials said in June that a fishing vessel carrying 34 migrants believed to be bound for New Zealand had apparently sunk near Indonesia. In July, a boat carrying 56 New Zealand-bound Sri Lankans became stranded in East Timor.

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