2 May 2016

'Vietnamese refugee' actually Chinese

7:52 am on 2 May 2016

A man who applied for asylum by pretending to be Vietnamese has been stripped of his refugee status, but will remain a New Zealand citizen.

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Unequivocal proof of fraud is needed before Internal Affairs will consider withdrawing citizenship. Photo: 123RF

The unnamed Chinese man's deception was not uncovered by an interview with Immigration New Zealand in which a Mandarin interpreter was used, nor when the man's Chinese wife sent officials his Chinese birth certificate during her own application for residence.

The immigration and protection tribunal said its decision to uphold the withdrawal of his refugee status does not affect his citizenship unless the Department of Internal Affairs takes steps to revoke it.

Internal Affairs said it needed unequivocal proof of fraud before it considered withdrawing citizenship.

The tribunal heard the man fled China in 1988 and bought a place on a boat carrying Vietnamese that was shipwrecked in Korea.

The tribunal heard that five years later the boat's passengers were being resettled in New Zealand under the refugee quota: "The appellant was interviewed by a New Zealand immigration officer. The language barrier meant that the questions were put in English, translated by the Vietnamese interpreter into Vietnamese and then [by his friend] from Vietnamese into Mandarin.

"The appellant's answers followed the same process, in reverse. The appellant does not know what the immigration official thought about the fact that he was, in effect, interviewing a Vietnamese man in Mandarin. It seemed to be accepted as being of little consequence."

He arrived in New Zealand a month later.

Two years later, his Chinese wife and son applied to join him and sent Immigration New Zealand his birth and marriage certificates, but the discrepancy was still not picked up.

The man became a New Zealand citizen in 1998.

It was only when he tried to bring his parents to New Zealand as residents in 2011, that his true country of birth was noticed and three years later it cancelled his refugee status.

He appealed the decision to the immigration and protection tribunal, which ruled that his "refugee status may have been procured by fraud, forgery, false or misleading representation, or the concealment of relevant information".

It concluded he could now not be classed a refugee a second time as he was already a New Zealand citizen, and so could not be deported to China.

The tribunal reported it did not overlook a number of compassionate circumstances.

"It appears that he fled China out of a real fear of being forcibly sterilised. The chain of events which then led to his finding himself caught up in a group of Vietnamese refugees in Korea is also accepted, as are the language difficulties he had in the camp.

"The insecurity and anxiety which his predicament must have caused him is not difficult to understand.

"There is also the reality that he has now lived in this country for nearly 23 years, and his wife and son have been here almost as long. For the son in particular, this will be the only country he knows."

RNZ News last year revealed Internal Affairs had decided not to revoke citizenship in 27 cases where fraud had been used to gain refugee status.

In a statement, a spokesman for the department said this case was not one of those, as none of the earlier cases involved immigrants from China or Vietnam.

"We are unable to comment on individual cases but proof of fraud has to be unequivocal before considering revoking citizenship.

"A higher level of proof is required than for revoking refugee status or permanent residence," the spokesperson said.