NZ judge supports asylum seekers
By Murray Addison
AUCKLAND — Asylum seekers at Auckland's Mt Eden Prison have been released after a High Court judge told the Immigration Service on November 30 that the men may have been wrongly jailed. The 16 men from Pakistan, India and Iran had earlier ended a three-week hunger strike.
The men went on hunger strike to protest against being kept in custody for several weeks while their applications for refugee status were being decided.
A South Auckland Sikh leader, Manpreet Singh, said a number of the men came from the Punjab, where Sikhs are trying to establish a homeland. Several had escaped from torture in Indian police cells.
Amnesty International has condemned the government's jailing of the asylum seekers, saying that one of the men has scars on his body which prove his claim of having been tortured in India. AI's secretary-general, Anne Burley, wrote to the immigration minister pointing out that, according to international standards, asylum seekers should be detained only on exceptional grounds.
The judge ordered the Immigration Service to reconsider the men's applications for temporary visitor permits while their refugee applications are processed. He said that people claiming refugee status should be granted permits unless there were special factors involved.