Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Could Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman be New Zealand's first refugee MP?

Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election. Photo / Richard Robinson

A Green Party candidate is aiming to be the first refugee to become an MP in New Zealand.

Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election.

She says electing a refugee to Parliament would send a strong message during a global refugee crisis and at a time of rising anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment.

"It would be historic for New Zealand and I think it will mean something at this particular moment in a time when we are seeing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a lifetime in the Middle East," Ghahraman said.

"To say that someone fleeing that part of the world could actually be so accepted, that she could take part in a democratic society, would be really meaningful.

"Especially with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Brexit, I got to the point where I thought some of us who are witnessing this actually need to put our hands up and be at the table in the higher levels of governance."

Her family fled Iran's repressive Islamic regime in 1990 when she was 9 and they were granted political asylum in New Zealand.

"Having an ambitious, educated mother, she was mostly the driver of us moving away, and she had a lot of trouble continuing to work because she wouldn't adhere to Islamic dress codes and eventually it became dangerous for us," she said.

The family travelled to New Zealand on the advice of a relative, who was also a refugee, and found the country was "incredibly welcoming", she said.

The 35-year-old has since built up an impressive CV as a human rights lawyer in New Zealand and overseas. She worked as a prosecutor at United Nations tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where heads of state were on trial for mass atrocities. After getting her masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University she also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.

Since returning to New Zealand in 2012, Ghahraman has been involved in several high profile cases. In particular, she helped Red Devils Motorcycle Gang member Trevor Wilson get his convictions quashed in the Supreme Court after police were found to have faked charges against an undercover officer to boost his credibility within the gang.

She is now in the Hgh Court representing family members caring for severely disabled relatives. The case was prompted by the National-led Government's urgent law change in 2013 which limited who could be paid for caring for disabled family members.

The controversial legislation, which was passed in a single day, was one of the factors that influenced Ghahraman to get involved in politics.

"I am a political animal," she said. "I think you have to try all the different routes to try and bring about change."

Convinced to join the Greens by a former flatmate, she has worked as the party's Auckland convenor and sat on its national executive. She now wants to run in an Auckland seat, possibly Kelston, New Lynn or Te Atatu.

- NZ Herald

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