Wellington, New Zealand -It’s been 50 years since New Zealand’s “dawn raids” and the 82-year-old father of Pacific Minister Aupito William Sio still can’t talk about it.
“How do you talk about something where you feel helpless in your own home by an authority that had to look after you and an authority that came to serve you?” Sio said.
The dawn attacks took place in the 1970s, involving people from the Pacific Islands who moved to New Zealand after World War II.
One winter morning in 1974, police – accompanied by dogs – arrived at the front door of Sio’s father’s property in Otara, Auckland. They demand that everyone in the house pick up their passport to show that they can be legally in New Zealand. Dogs bark, people shout and the police chase Sio’s cousins out of the garage. They were sent to prison minus their belongings and were deported to Samoa.
Many Pacific Islanders moved to New Zealand after the war to boost the country’s depleted workforce. By 1976, they made up just over 2 percent of the country’s population, according to the national census of 65,700. But they came under pressure amid the economic strife that plagued the country in the 1970s when the Labor government decided to curb immigration. Between 1974 and 1976, there were numerous raids on the homes of Pacific families, often early in the morning or late at night. Thousands were arrested and deported.
After years of lobbying by the community — including a petition signed by 7,366 people submitted to parliament in June — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the government has formally apologized for a policy it has “deeply recognized” wounds’ in the Pacific communities in New Zealand. .
The apology is scheduled for August 1, 2021.
Sio says it is important that New Zealand recognizes selected racial profiling as part of its history.
“This is the first step in removing the shackles of shame,” he said. ‘If we do not learn and understand what happened and come up with excuses, the same pattern of behavior will reappear. We have to accept that what happened was wrong and that it is still wrong. ”
An investigation by the Race Relations Conciliator in 1986 into allegations of discrimination in the application of immigration laws, found that between 1985-1986, while the Pacific people made up a third of the people left behind after their visas expired, they 86 percent of all prosecutions. By comparison, those from the United States and Great Britain, who also made up a third of all, made up only 5 percent of all prosecutions. According to the Ministry of Pacific People, between 1974 and 1976 there were an estimated 5,000-12,000 who did so.
Benji Timu and Josiah Tualamali’i started the petition tabled in parliament in June after feeling frustrated that no official acknowledged the intergenerational trauma as a result of the attacks, a topic not discussed at school did not come up, Timu told Al Jazeera.
Timu, 27, has been learning about his identity for the past five years.
Of Samoan, Cook Island and Niue descent, he says he is only now learning about the struggles of his culture.
‘Many people talk about the shame and guilt they had to bear in order to stay in New Zealand. I consider myself part of the privileged diaspora of the Pacific. I can speak my language and English, and I feel there is a responsibility to stand up for my culture, ‘he said.
‘It’s crazy to think we did not learn about this in schools. I received no training against racism. The damage can be done, and you can see that the pain has been gone for two generations. This manifests in mistrust in the police and the government. And there are many things that keep our people down – whether it’s socio-economically, educationally or from a justice point of view. An apology is the first beginning of the process of getting things right. “
Pacific Islands make up 8.1 percent of New Zealand’s five million people. National statistics from 2013 indicate that their average annual income was 8,800 New Zealand dollars ($ 6,145) lower than the median national income and over the three years from 2012 to 2014, approximately 28 percent of Pacific children in poor households lived, compared with 16 percent of children of European descent.
The petition also called for the implementation of a heritage fund to honor, recognize and financially support the families affected by the attacks.
Although it ‘is very important for the state to apologize for the injustices perpetrated by the attacks and the racist rhetoric approved by the state, which was intended to humiliate and dehumanize the islanders of the Pacific’, is an excuse not enough, Dylan at the University of Auckland, jurist Asafo told Al Jazeera.
Asafo refers to an advertisement in the election campaign shown on television by the National Party, which includes that the islanders of the Pacific are considered animal, violent, work-stealers who bring crime and civil unrest to New Zealand.
The openly racist campaign helped party leader and former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon win the 1975 general election.
“It was quite traumatic to see blatant racism so widely accepted,” Asafo said. ‘But it was effective as Muldoon won by a huge margin. The racism approved by the state has taught a generation that it is good to see Pacific Islanders in the light, and we have not seen any policy to counter these acts since.
Need for change
Now, racism is secretly laying the groundwork for New Zealand’s immigration laws, he says.
‘There are no clear roads for permanent residence for people in the Pacific and people of color. The system is designed for white migrants from richly developed countries, who are seen by the government to offer more to the economy. While colored people are seen as a decline in the economy, they are transferred to temporary visas that expire, and then their rights and privileges are denied.
The scheme for recognized seasonal employers came into effect in 2007 and is designed to enable the agricultural sector to recruit people from overseas for seasonal work. In practice, this means that Pacific residents are invited to apply for the program, due to low wages, and despite the fact that they play a valuable role in New Zealand, the right to permanently enter the country stay and be forced to return to their homelands, says Asafo.
“Pacific dwellers are forced to work in appalling conditions; they are seen as tools for their labor and are easily disposed of. “The system undermines the dignity of the people,” he said.
‘I feel there is a racist contradiction, where we are seen as part of the Pacific and recognized as New Zealand’s neighbors in an international environment. But in an immigration context, the Pacific people are second-class citizens who are exploited for their labor to fuel the labor shortage.
“The government has expressed its concern, but whether it is remorse or regret depends on whether appropriate steps are taken to address the systematic dehumanisation of a group of people and the impact that still exists today.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says Ardern said there should be no expectations around amnesty and noted that in 2000 and 2001 an opportunity for forgiveness was offered.
Ardern also noted that there are many ethnic groups and communities who want a way to residence. The government does not want an apology for discriminatory behavior accompanied by a policy that discriminates itself by restricting admission to certain groups, Faafoi says.
“The government remains committed to the recognized seasonal employer scheme, but we have identified areas for improvement.”
A review of the scheme is currently underway by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which includes mechanisms for determining caps and worker allocations that are fair, transparent and better performing; to ensure that workers receive a fair share of the benefits of their participation and effective management of possible consequences, such as the relocation of workers in New Zealand.
The review includes consideration of ways to strengthen compliance and minimize the risk of exploitation. It will also review the obligations of employers with regard to the care of their workers, including the provision of suitable housing, says Faafoi.
Minister Sio says: ‘We are continuing to review the scheme and we are gathering intelligence from the local community. I’m aware of the criticism. There are two sides [that being the exploitation of foreign workers] but talk to any employer and you will hear a different story. We also need to be vigilant and give opportunities to our local workforce. ”
For now, it is important to acknowledge the damage and trauma caused by the dawn attacks on a very important part of the New Zealand community, says Sio. ‘People came here to be good citizens and were treated unfairly by the people who had to protect them.
‘I want people to feel confident in telling their story, as it becomes a healing process for traumatized people. It is also important for the rest of New Zealand to make known what happened – especially what politicians, police and immigration officials talked about behind closed doors – so that it does not happen again. ”