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We are still being dawn raided: Tongan community leader tells public meeting

Monday 8 May 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Regional, Tonga

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We are still being dawn raided: Tongan community leader tells public meeting
Some of those attending Saturday’s meeting. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Lewis/23050704

A meeting has been held in Auckland between the government and those who lived through dawn raids past and present.

The meeting attended by the immigration minister, six Pacific MPs and community leaders was sparked by revelations of a case last week where a Pasifika overstayer was detained after a dawn raid. His lawyer said police showed up at his home just after 5am, scaring his children and taking him into custody.

Less than two years ago, then prime minister Jacinda Ardern officially apologised on behalf of the government for the infamous early morning raids of the 1970s which she said left Pacific communities feeling "targeted and terrorised".

Tongan community leader Pakilau Manase Lua opened Saturday’s meeting (NZ time) in an impassioned plea for the government to listen.

He told a packed room, "we are crying for our dawn raiders, we are still being dawn raided" - and asked how that was still happening after the apology.

An overstayer at the meeting who cannot be named to protect his identity shared his story directly with the immigration minister.

Tears poured as he spoke, saying "I ask the minister for some grace to help us".

"If you grant us a piece of paper then we will work hard for New Zealand and we will never forget that," he said.

Former Pacific minister Aupito William Sio, who led the dawn raids apology, called on Pasifika leaders not to disrespect and disregard the historic apology for them.

But Pakilau Manase Lua said that was not good enough.

"The apology was for me, my father who's passed away, all of the overstayers that were passed away for the dawn raid. How dare you come and tell me off on my marae."

Immigration Minister Michael Wood told the packed room he was shocked to find out what had happened recently and committed to change.

Wood said the government was considering an amnesty for overstayers, but he could not say when a decision would be made.

"This is a very significant issue for us to consider, the last time there was an amnesty in New Zealand was over 20 years ago, we have the advice in front of us now.

"I don't want to give a date and set up a false expectation and raise hopes, I've given a very clear undertaking to people here today it will be soon."

Amnesties were a complex issue and official advice needed to be carefully considered, he said.

Immigration NZ representatives also attended the meeting and apologised.

"I will be aware of every individual case from now on," Allison McDonald deputy secretary of Immigration within MBIE told RNZ Pacific.

"I need to do way more to connect with community, particularly the Pasifika community because of the dawn raids apology and the harm that was cause and the deep trauma that has been reignited through our actions," she said.

"We will do everything we can to work with the community to make sure we are culturally competent to work with the communities that we serve," McDonald said.

RNZ Pacific asked whether recent out of hours visits by immigration officials or dawn raids were racist, but the immigration minister responded: "No I don't agree with that assertion."

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni expressed the importance of the government fronting.

"This is part of it, we need an opportunity to heal the space culturally and that is what we have done today," she said.

Ministers and immigration officials were thanked multiple times for attending with one day's notice.

Pasifika community members wanted change then and there, they wanted the government to announce an amnesty.

"You can't just stand at a meeting and say 'we are going to do it', that's not going to work," Sepuloni said.

When questioned after the meeting on what the government can do, Wood emphasised the significance of deciding on an amnesty, which is separate to the review going on at Immigration NZ.

"I can't give you an exact date right now," Wood said.

Members from all minority communities impacted by immigration issues attended and were invited to speak at the traditional Tongan meeting.