By Staff Reporter and NZPA
A shipload of 102 Chinese boat people who may be just days away from landing in New Zealand forced Parliament into urgency last night to debate new powers of mass, indefinite detention.
Faced with the arrival of the vessel Alexandra II possibly as early as this Sunday, the Government rushed forward changes to the Immigration Act and gave officials immediate power to round up and hold those in any illegal arrival.
Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere said the Government had learned that a vessel called Alexandra II left Honiara in the Solomon Islands last Saturday with the Chinese nationals on board, with the "declared intention" of reaching New Zealand.
"If the vessel keeps to that intention, and assuming favourable weather, it could arrive off the coast of New Zealand after next Sunday, June 20," he said.
"I would emphasise that it is not certain the Alexandra II genuinely intends to reach New Zealand, or whether those on board intend to claim refugee status, but the Government considers it prudent to be prepared, should such a relatively large number of people reach these shores."
The bill Mr Delamere took to Parliament last night brings forward the introduction date of legislation passed in March, which changed immigration laws to give authorities wider measures to deal with people who arrive here and claim refugee status.
That legislation had a start date of October 1 - too late to cover the Chinese boat people - but now takes effect immediately.
It allows for the "continued detention of persons who arrive in New Zealand as part of a mass arrival until such time as all claims for refugee status - and any consequence arising from those decisions - have been finalised."
Existing law allows the Government to detain people claiming refugee status for just 28 days while their status is being determined.
Mr Delamere said: "This amendment allows us greater flexibility in how long we can detain these people and will also enable us to prosecute those who organise migrant trafficking."
The new measures streamline the procedure for processing people who claim refugee status and shortens the time in which they can lodge appeals.
It also puts the obligation on individuals to prove why they should stay in the country and allows limited purpose visas for people who are considered an immigration risk.
Australia has been the target of several mass arrivals with more than 400 people entering its waters since January.
Labour and the Alliance opposed the bill, saying the rush was not justified and there was time for it to go to a brief select committee hearing.
``I can't believe that within the arrival time-frame a select committee can't have a proper briefing,'' said Labour's immigration spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel.
``There's a danger that this Parliament is being panicked into a response. This isn't good enough. The House deserves more information.''
She said she was worried that the status of the Chinese boat people was being pre-determined.
Alliance immigration spokesman Matt Robson said the Chinese believed to be on the boat and heading for New Zealand could be fleeing their country to look for a new home.
By Staff Reporter and NZPA