21 Dec 2018

Australia deports Pasifika people to NZ who have never set foot here: 'It's wrong'

10:07 am on 21 December 2018

For most people visiting New Zealand for the first time, it's by choice, but some Pacific Islanders are being forced here by the Australian Border Force.

Christchurch International Airport.

The two men deported from Australia landed in Christchurch. Photo: 123rf.com

Two men deported from Australia landed in Christchurch in the past two months, stepping foot on New Zealand soil for the first time.

One man, Fofoa I Vaoese Toese Pei, was born in Samoa. He isn't fully aware of how he qualifies as a New Zealand citizen.

The other, Arona Pere, was born in the Cook Islands, and has been sent to New Zealand because of the New Zealand citizenship that comes with that.

They are part of a growing list of people being deported from Australia to New Zealand.

Mr Toese Pei moved to Australia from Samoa when he was 10-years-old.

Last year, he found himself before the Australian courts, charged for an aggravated robbery.

He said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and being guilty by association.

As he left prison after securing bail last month, Border Force officers were waiting for him at the front door, and three weeks later he was flying into New Zealand for the first time in his life.

Mr Toese Pei didn't even know he was a New Zealand citizen.

"I just couldn't believe it," he said.

"I didn't even have time for my family to come and see me, not at all. They wouldn't clear it. It was everything that was close to me, you know."

Three weeks after being detained he was kicked out of the country, without the chance of seeing any of his family.

Mr Pere has a similar story.

He and his family moved to Australia 20 years ago, when he was just 10-years-old.

He was given a suspended 12-month sentence for domestic violence in 2015, but was caught driving while disqualified last year.

He was given six months in prison for that offence, and then deported three weeks after his sentence was served.

Mr Pere said he could have tried to fight through the courts, but there are too few success stories to make it seem worthwhile.

"The way I see it, my lawyers, I had a lawyer and a barrister and they were fighting the case for me, and they said we'll take it to Federal," Mr Pere said.

"But it might take another six months to one year until you actually stand in Federal and fight your case.

"I'm not going to waste my time, you know, spending another one to two years in a detention centre, and then in the end you still get no luck."

Mr Pere was a building site foreman and said Australia is happy to take advantage of New Zealanders' skills but doesn't really want them there.

"From my experience, a lot of the buildings there, mostly all Kiwi workers, you know," Mr Pere said.

"They go there and they build Australia, and then Australia turns around and kicks us back.

"One little crime, it could be your first offence, haven't been charged in court yet, and they still cancel your visa."

Mr Toese Pei feels the same way.

"It's wrong what they're doing," he said.

"They're just trying to do what Donald Trump is doing, building a wall and sending everyone over."

Both men have been aided by Helen Murphy of the Prisoner's Aid and Rehabilitation Society since landing in Christchurch.

She has helped them get bank accounts and access to benefits, and helped them move into temporary hostels.

Ms Murphy said the level of offending from the men is at such a low level that they shouldn't have been deported in the first place.

"No monitoring needed for these two boys because they're so low risk," Ms Murphy said.

"Now I think that in itself, that's the key. They're so low risk that they're not even on a blip in New Zealand."

She said the men are among many deportees dumped in New Zealand leading up to Christmas.

Five people landed in one week in Christchurch earlier this month, and some people have arrived so close to Christmas that it will be hard to set them up with bank accounts and Work and Income support.

RNZ has contacted the Australian Border Force for comment.

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