National wants answers about Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani

9:52 am on 4 May 2020

The National Party is calling for the government to be more upfront about what's happening with Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish refugee and author who arrived here last November and may now be seeking asylum.

Behrouz Boochani.

Behrouz Boochani arrived in New Zealand last November and it is understood he is still here. Photo: Twitter / Meg de Ronde

Boochani arrived in Christchurch after being granted a visitor visa to attend a literary festival - it is understood he is still in New Zealand.

He had spent more than six years in an Australian detention centre on Manus Island; there he wrote his book No Friend But the Mountains on his phone, which won two major literary prizes in Australia.

Boochani had indicated he would consider seeking asylum here but under New Zealand law ministers and officials cannot discuss any details of individual claims, or even confirm if an application has been made.

Under immigration law someone seeking asylum can be granted a temporary visa so they can live and work in New Zealand while their application is being considered, a process that can take several months.

National's immigration spokesperson, Stuart Smith, said National is questioning whether Boochani truly intended to leave New Zealand after a month, as he would have been required to state on his visitor visa application.

When applying for a visa people had to show they were a "genuine tourist or visitor", said Smith, and state their intention to leave.

In an interview with the ABC before he arrived here, Smith said Boochani indicated then he had "no intention of leaving New Zealand" once his visitor visa expired.

There was no justification for using a visitor visa to get to New Zealand in order to then seek asylum, Smith said.

"He had been accepted for asylum in the US, so it's not like a normal case of someone claiming asylum when they get in the country that has nowhere else to go - quite clearly he did."

There was a "bad odour" around the whole application process, Smith said, "but what's happened since we don't know and we won't know possibly at all.

"His legal status once he's here is quite tightly defined and that may be a difficult situation but this man got into New Zealand when he quite clearly stated he was considering not leaving the country ... the wrong way to go about filling out your visa form."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report today that by law she was not able to comment on a individual's legal status or applications.

"Generally of course we have an expectation that people, when they are in New Zealand, they are here legally and Immigration takes action if they are not."

Back in November Ardern said she would have preferred Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to have given her a "heads up" about Boochani's arrival, adding "it is still a matter that, ultimately, would not have changed as a result of me knowing".

"It was an operational decision, though, made by Immigration New Zealand, as you would expect for a visa decision."

When asked about statements Boochani had made about maybe staying on past his visa Ardern said at that time it was "totally hypothetical".

"He has the legal ability to be here for a month. It demonstrates, I think, that the system where he's been identified already as a refugee - he has travel documents and he's had the ability to apply and legally be here in New Zealand for the purposes of speaking at a conference," Ardern told reporters.

"He also, of course, is in the process of gaining approval to be able to reside in the United States. Anything beyond that really is, you know, speculative."

Asylum claims in New Zealand were dealt with "totally independently of politicians", she said.

In a statement, Lees-Galloway said he could neither "confirm nor deny whether Immigration New Zealand has received any claim for asylum" under the section of the Immigration Act that "requires us to keep all refugee and protection claims confidential".

"Asylum claims are very sensitive in nature and are often made because the individual has a fear of persecution in their country or otherwise fear returning there.

"As such, it is important that the existence of any claim is kept confidential to protect the individual while their claim is being assessed."

Boochani has not responded to a request for comment from RNZ.

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