Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Somali New Zealanders held up by customs - National MP

Customs is holding Somali New Zealanders up for hours and many Kiwis feel they are targeted at the border, a National MP says. Photo / iStock
Customs is holding Somali New Zealanders up for hours and many Kiwis feel they are targeted at the border, a National MP says. Photo / iStock

Customs is holding Somali New Zealanders up for hours and many Kiwis feel they are targeted at the border, a National MP says.

Hamilton East MP David Bennett raised the issue with his National colleague and Customs Minister Nicky Wagner and Comptroller of Customs Carolyn Tremain at a select committee today.

After a discussion about a new scheme to fast-track selected travellers through airports, Mr Bennett said other New Zealanders felt targeted when they travelled.

"We have a very diverse population now. I had dinner with somebody in my Somali community on Monday, and they were saying that sometimes they can get held up for three or four hours at the border coming back from their country.

"These are people who have worked for 10 years in government departments in Hamilton, you know, they pose no risk at all. And, yet, just because of the country of origin that they've gone to, it makes it difficult."

Many New Zealanders now felt that the border was a "slowing down process" for them, compared to other Kiwis without such a background, Mr Bennett said.

About one in every four people in Hamilton East were born overseas, and Hamilton has been home to refugees from Somalia since the early 1990s.

There are now more than 1200 Somali people living in Hamilton. Refugees from other countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia and Burma.

After the select committee meeting, Ms Wagner said Customs did not profile based on race or religion.

"We don't actually stop people on what we see, but we do because we think there is some kind of information...it might be where they travel, where they have been, when they bought their ticket or how quick it was - there are a whole lot of indicators."

In March, research from AUT social sciences associate professor Camille Nakhid found African youth in New Zealand felt they were being unfairly targeted by police, sometimes in a racist manner.

Police subsequently criticised the claims as unsubstantiated, and said they were disappointed in the research.

Today's select committee meeting also covered a new scheme that will see selected transtasman travellers fast-tracked through New Zealand airports.

Such passengers will provide detailed information before they reach the border to enable an "advanced risk assessment".

In the pilot, selected travellers will provide detailed information before they reach the border to enable an "advanced risk assessment".

Last month's Budget provided $1.6 million to fast-track passengers, and $2.8 million over two years to speed up clearance of low-risk goods.

Ms Tremain said details of the scheme were still to be worked out, including who would be eligible. But airlines had expressed strong interest, she said.

Despite the fast-track process being available to only those selected, Ms Wagner said all New Zealanders would ultimately benefit.

"I came across somebody in Queenstown when I was down there, and he goes to Sydney every second week, as a doctor, for his job, that sort of person - we know where they are going, we know what they're doing, and they would be trusted.

"The key to that of course is because they are moving faster it means everyone else can move faster too."

- NZ Herald

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