Australian government detains New Zealand citizens on Christmas Island

November 13, 2015
Protesters with placards
The New Zealand left responded to the situation by occupying the Australian consulate in Auckland on November 11.

As of December last year, anyone who is not an Australian citizen who has spent 12 months or more in jail can be deported at the discretion of the immigration department.

By September, 75 New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders were being detained on Christmas Island awaiting deportation.

In this nine-month period, 406 New Zealand citizens had their visas cancelled, 95 had been deported and up to 184 were being held in detention centres.

The New Zealand government has come under fire from the Labour and Greens parties for not taking a strong enough stance. On November 10 Prime Minister John Key was personally criticised in parliament for not helping New Zealand detainees and responded by accusing Labour Party MPs of “supporting rapists”.

One of the New Zealanders awaiting deportation is Ricardo Young, who has lived in Australia since he was 4 years old and regards himself as Australian. He has a partner and a child in Australia he will leave behind when he is deported. Young served two years in jail for aggravated assault and on his release received a letter from the Department of Immigration informing him his visa and been cancelled.

These harsh measures are detailed in section 501 of the Migration Act, which provides for the cancellation of visas for any foreign citizens sentenced to at least 12 months prison. However, despite comments from Key and claims from Australia's immigration minister Peter Dutton that those detained have committed serious offences, the New Zealand justice minister was provided with a detailed breakdown of crimes committed by those detained and none had served time for murder or rape.

Rioting on the island began after the body of Kurdish refugee Fazel Chegeni was found outside the compound. While no information from government sources has been released about his death, other detainees have claimed he was beaten to death by Serco guards.

But the frustration and anger had been building up for some time. NZ Labour MP Kelvin Davis visited the island on October 23 and reported that those detained were so angry, hungry and traumatised they were considering rioting.

The New Zealand left has responded to the situation by occupying the Australian consulate in Auckland on November 11. Activists were protesting the treatment of refugees in Australia's offshore detention centres as well as the treatment of Ne w Zealand citizens.

Most of the New Zealand citizens detained on Christmas Island are of Maori or Pacific Islander descent, leading to claims that this is yet another racist policy from the federal government.

This policy has seen a broadening of the use of offshore detention centres, which were previously only used to detain refugees. This should also be a cause for concern given the current overpopulation of Australian jails and the attitude that the harsh treatment of those who have committed crimes is justified is a common attitude held by Australians.

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