The Human Rights Commission says racial discrimination and harassment in New Zealand is worrying.

In the annual Race Relations Report released today, the commission says it received 1253 race-related complaints and inquiries last year, which is "significantly higher" than in previous years.

Complaints related to race accounted for 55.4 per cent of all discrimination approaches.

"Data on racial discrimination and harassment from 2009 are a cause for concern," said Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

Also on the rise is public perceptions of discrimination against ethnic minorities, especially Asians.

In a survey by Statistics New Zealand, 75 per cent of respondents identified Asians as the most discriminated against - people on welfare (70 per cent), overweight people (70 per cent) and recent immigrants (63 per cent).

In a recession year, the report also said race became an issue in the area of employment, with Maori unemployment rising from 8.2 per cent in 2008 to 15.4 per cent last year, Pacific unemployment from 7.8 per cent to 14 per cent and Middle Eastern and Africans from 10.6 per cent to 17.1 per cent.

Overall unemployment rose from 4.6 per cent to 7.3 per cent in the same period.

"Nearly one in three Maori and Pacific youth were unemployed at the end of 2009. People on temporary work permits were also affected by the recession, as their permits were not extended," Mr de Bres said.

Amid the gloom, the report said the Pacific tsunami was one issue that united New Zealanders of different ethnicities more than any other.

"Its devastating impact was felt by all New Zealanders, particularly those of Pacific descent. There was a more keen sense of common identity between Pacific and other New Zealanders," the report said.

The commission is developing its Action Plan for Human Rights for 2011 to 2015 this year.