Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 417, 4 August 2021

New Zealand: Pacific communities receive a long-overdue apology
Avishka Ashok

In the news
On 1 August, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern represented the government and formally apologized to the Pacific communities for the relentless "Dawn Raids" which targeted individuals from the Pacific islands of Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and more. While addressing the crowd gathered at the Auckland town hall, she said: "The immigration laws of the time were enforced in a discriminatory manner and that Pacific peoples were specifically targeted and racially profiled when these activities were carried out."
 
Issues at large
First, the Dawn Raids. The Dawn Raids refer to the crackdown on the Pacific communities by the Labour government in the mid-1970s. In 1974, the police in Auckland, equipped by the government, started conducting raids in an attempt to deport outsiders who were overstaying their work permit. The raids were conducted at dawn to catch overstayers before they left for work. This move was initiated due to the economic downturn which led to heightened unemployment and jobs scarcity. There was a growing anti-foreigner sentiment as New Zealanders were increasingly losing out to Pacific Islanders on economic opportunities. The Dawn Raids were problematic because the raids intentionally targeted people who did not look like "White New Zealanders." Even though both, Pacific communities and the Europeans, represented one third of the overstayers each, the rate of deportation was 86 per cent for the Islanders while that of Europeans was five per cent.
 
Second, the Pacific communities in New Zealand. The Pacific Islanders include people from Hawaii, Samoan Islands, Tokelau, Tahiti, Tonga and other Micronesian and Melanesian islands. This populace has steadily evolved in New Zealand; from 2200 people in 1945 to 2,95,941 people in 2013 which is almost 7.4 per cent of the total population. The Islanders starting moving to the country in big numbers in 1950s during the industrial boost. However, this minority community is often subject to discrimination which had been covertly institutionalized in the 1970s. The 2013 National Statistics prove this discrimination as the group of Islanders earned lesser than the national average and over 28 per cent of the children belonging to the community lived in poor conditions. The Recognized Seasonal Employer Scheme (2007) further propagates this discrimination as it allows for the agricultural sector to employ foreigners for seasonal work; thereby exploiting the Islanders as cheap and disposable labour and also limiting their right to live permanently in the country.
 
Third, intolerance in New Zealand. Despite being considered as a tolerant country, New Zealand has also had a history of discriminatory policies against select groups of individuals. It imposed a poll tax on Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century and there have been numerous instances of discrimination against Samoan communities. A small part of the population in the country continues to see Islanders as secondary citizens who drain the economy.
 
Fourth, the Polynesian Panther's demands. The Polynesian Panthers Party ignited a movement to protect their community's rights and improve their quality of their life in New Zealand. They also pushed for the national apology in April 2021 and demanded schools to educate students regarding the unfair discrimination and provide scholarships for students from the community. The party aims to end the prejudice against the Pacific Islanders by enlightening the people regarding the conduct of the government instead of brushing it off.
 
In perspective
New Zealand's apology to the community comes after half a decade but is a positive step towards accepting Islanders as a part of the country. The apology also comes at a time when there is a growing indigenous movement, not just in the Pacific Ocean region but also across the world in Canada, the US, Mexico and more.

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