1 Aug 2016

NZers biggest group in Australian detention centres

6:24 am on 1 August 2016

For the first time, New Zealanders are the biggest group being held in Australian immigration detention centres.

Newly released figures show as of July, of the 1577 people being held in Australian immigration facilities 199 were New Zealanders. The next biggest groups were Iranian, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan and Chinese immigrants.

Christmas Island Detention Centre

Photo: Wikicommons

Read the full report here.

At the end of 2014, the Australian government changed the law allowing it to cancel the visa of anyone who had committed a crime and was jailed for 12 months or more.

Lawyer Greg Barns, who has represented New Zealand detainees, said the policy has had a huge impact, not only on individuals, but also families, many of whom are also forced to move back to New Zealand.

"What's tragic is that we are seeing young people in particular who've been born in Australia, spent all their lives in Australia, made mistakes but started to get their lives back together. Then being told, 'you have to move back to New Zealand'.

"They're often 18,19,20 years of age. Their entire families have to move back with them.

"I know of some cases where the young person involved has serious mental or physical illness. They couldn't possibly just go back to New Zealand on their own, so their entire families are having to go back.

"It's a cruel policy, it's a senseless policy and to be frank the government in New Zealand has done very little, if anything, to ameliorate the policy."

It's estimated up 6000 New Zealanders could be affected, but Mr Barns said if partners and families were included that could mean 10,000 to 15,000 people would be forced to resettle in New Zealand.

Iwi in Auz cofounder Erina Morunga said 19 months ago New Zealanders were not even in the top 10 largest group in detention, and she is critical of the New Zealand government's response.

"They simply will not stand up to Australia and say 'this is not on, you're going overboard now.'

"And it's actually getting to the point where it's going to start hurting our relationship," she said.

"If Australia can do this to us, what hope do other people have - and this country's largely made up of migrants."

Labour Party Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said New Zealanders continued to be treated unfairly in Australia and the government had done little to make a difference.

He said there were weekly meetings between MFAT officials and their Australian counterparts but little had changed.

"Having cups of tea and making sure that there's no sort of diplomatic incidents - that's probably what they are most worried about rather than making sure New Zealanders are being treated fairly by Australia," he said.

New Zealander Darren Haskell, whose late brother Bruce was held at detention centres in Australia, said he was shocked at details in his brother's diary.

Bruce Haskell returned to New Zealand in December with a suspected brain tumour and has since died. While in detention he said he had been refused medical treatment. He died in February before he was able to seek specialist treatment.

Darren Haskell said his brother's diary contained numerous references to violence and beatings.

"He was thrown off a first floor balcony, beaten senseless by the guards," said Mr Haskell.

"It's very similar to what we're seeing in fact of the Australian youth detention centres - there are a lot of similarities, and I'm absolutely disgusted that our country even allows this to happen.

Darren says his brother returned to New Zealand a broken man, leaving behind four sons in Australia.