19 Mar 2020

China and Iran travel ban 'unlawful discrimination', says immigration advisor

10:14 am on 19 March 2020

The government is being challenged about the legality of its travel restrictions that continue to ban visitors from China.

Passengers from international flights at Auckland Airport on Monday 27 January, after flights from Guangzhou and Shanghai had touched down.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Immigration adviser Harris Gu has complained to the Human Rights Commission that the ban on non-New Zealanders from China and Iran - compared to self-isolation for all other travellers - is discriminatory.

The World Health Organisation recorded only 39 new cases of covid-19 in China in the latest daily tally, compared to 3500 in Italy.

Gu said the government should either remove the travel ban, or extend it to Europe and other countries that are badly affected by the virus.

"People from China, and people from Iran have been discriminated against due to their country of origin," he said. "And it's prohibited, it's unlawful discrimination based on the Human Rights Act.

"I was quite shocked and I will say, it's disgusting for the government to still continue to act with that two-tier treatment."

The policy was affecting students who could not access the courses they had paid for, as well as workers unable to get to jobs, he said.

The National President of the Union of Students' Associations, Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, said it may be time for a re-think on the ban.

"It's important that we follow the guidance of public health officials," she said. "However, if we have got other means like self-isolation targeted at all other countries except for China, then perhaps we need to look at adopting that same particular response."

The union's focus was on making sure students needing to self-isolate have support, she said, and that they have devices and internet to access lectures online.

Students also wanted to know that there was help available from universities and the government if their income from work dried up, she added.

The Human Rights Commission said it would consider any complaints in its usual manner.

It said while it was important to be aware of obligations to prohibit discrimination, each case had to be decided on its facts.

"There are some exceptions to the general rules," said a spokesperson. "For example, if there is an unreasonable risk of infecting others with an illness, and steps cannot be taken to reduce this risk, some of the usual rules may not apply.

"Whether an exemption applies in a particular case will depend on the circumstances."

It also appealed to people to resist judging and typecasting people based on ethnicity or nationality.

Immigration New Zealand has been approached for comment.

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