Bishops speak out on immigration changes

The Bill would allow more use of undisclosed classified information and extend the definition of classified information.

Caritas and the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference have joined forces to make a submission on the Immigration Bill. Caritas is particularly concerned about aspects of the Bill that are contrary to the principles of natural justice, including the extension of the use of undisclosed classified information.

Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech said the Bill would allow considerably more use of undisclosed classified information than at present, and would also extend the definition of classified information.

‘There are many natural justice concerns in these new provisions.’

Natural justice is about ensuring that legal procedures are fair. It is recognised not only in New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, but also in international human rights agreements such as the Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

‘Principles of natural justice cannot be changed simply by domestic legislation or majority decision.’

Lisa Beech said there were also concerns that appeal provisions are removed in many parts of the Bill, often at quite a low level, such as decisions made by an Immigration officer.

‘Caritas and other Catholic agencies’ experience is that many mistakes are made at a junior level in the Immigration Service, and believes a right of appeal must remain.’

The Bill merges the four existing appeal bodies into a single Immigration and Protection Tribunal. Lisa Beech said that, while at first glance this might appear to be simplifying a complicated process, there are important distinctions between the different categories that will be lost.

‘In particular Caritas is concerned that there not be any downgrading of the importance of the Refugee Convention, and of the international reputation that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority has gained for its decisions. We want the Authority maintained as a separate decision-making body,’ she said.

The Bill provides for the first time for the use of biometric information, including photographs, fingerprints and iris scans, about which Caritas has no major concerns.

‘However, it appears very significant that the use of DNA testing has not been included in the Bill, and that there continues to be no legal framework for the extensive use of DNA testing by the Immigration Service in refugee family reunification cases.’

While welcoming the inclusion in the Bill of people in need of protection under the Convention against Torture, Caritas and the NZCBC will ask the select committee to consider how New Zealand will respond to the issue of people displaced by environmental factors, which are expected to number at least one million people in the Pacific alone by the end of this century. For more information please contact: Lisa Beech or Martin de Jong 04-496-1742.

Our hope is that here in New Zealand people will know they are welcome and that they have come to a place of justice, solidarity and hospitality.

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference: The rights of refugees and migrants, 2002.

Newtown group submits

Meanwhile, the St Anne’s Newtown Social Justice Group made a verbal submission to the select committee hearing submissions on the proposed immigration law changes last month.

The St Anne’s group focused almost exclusively on the sweeping powers vested in immigration officers and the removal of any right of appeal from many aspects of an immigration officer’s work.

The group fears that this will make it harder for refugees and migrants to bring their families into New Zealand.