What was noticeably missing from the Government’s apology announcement was a list of actions it’s planning to take to address the intergenerational harms caused by the Dawn Raids. Dylan Asafo on what those actions should look like. 

It was announced yesterday that the Government will be giving a formal apology for the Dawn Raids of the 1970s on June 26, 2021.

Like most formal government apologies, this apology won’t be one that was freely given without constant and consistent pressure from organisers and advocates.

It will come only after repeated calls for an apology from the Polynesian Panthers earlier this year, a petition launched by Pacific advocates Josiah Tualamali’i and Benji Timu (which gathered 7366 signatures in three weeks) and advocacy by other Pacific leaders including the Green Party’s Teanau Tuiono.

Of course, there’s good reason to celebrate the Government’s announcement and plans for an apology. Unlike her predecessors, the Prime Minister demonstrates an understanding of the profound impacts of the Dawn Raids on Pacific peoples and its “lasting negative impact” today. During the announcement, the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, also shared the heartbreaking story of his family’s home being raided, the “traumatising” impact it had on him and how he does not want his “children and nieces and nephews to be shackled by that pain”.

However, despite the genuine displays of emotion shown yesterday, what was noticeably missing from the announcement was a list of actions the Government is planning to take to try to address the intergenerational harms caused by the Dawn Raids.

While a list of actions might be coming later with the apology itself at the end of the month, just in case there aren’t any in the pipeline, it must be made clear that any apology would be incomplete, if not empty, if it doesn’t include the follow-up actions that Pacific advocates have been calling for. In the words of anti-racism scholar Nicole Cardoza, “an apology is something we do, not something we say”.

Therefore, the Government must set up a legacy fund to allow education about the Dawn Raids, as requested in the petition made by Tualamali’i and Timu, to prevent future generations of New Zealanders from carrying out the same or similar racist actions again.

If the Government truly wants to express genuine remorse for the Dawn Raids … one of the many things it must do is provide amnesty for all people overstaying their visas and provide them with equitable pathways to permanent residency.

However, this isn’t the only action that should accompany the apology. The Government must also grant amnesty to all people who are overstaying their visas and provide them with equitable pathways to permanent residency (as Teanau and others are calling for). To do this, it must make several changes to our current immigration laws and policies that allow the racist legacy of the Dawn Raid era to persist today.  

Currently, pathways to residency are extremely limited if not non-existent for most migrants.

If you are unable to meet the very particular requirements for the permanent residency visas on offer, your chances of gaining permanent residency status depend heavily on how much value the Government thinks you will bring to the country’s economy and wider society.

Unless you’re going to fulfil a long-term skill shortage, work for a talented accredited employer, have a small business, do religious work, or have a talent in arts, culture or sport – the only viable pathway is the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa, which grants permanent residency to 19,000-28,000 people a year (pre-Covid) using a points-based system. In a nutshell, applicants are given points based on several criteria, including whether they have ‘skilled’ work experience lined up in New Zealand, their projected income level, the extent of their ‘skilled’ work experience, their level of qualifications and their ability to speak English. Only applicants with a certain number of points can get visas.

While some might find this visa pathway to be fair and reasonable, these seemingly objective requirements (e.g. ‘skilled’ work experience, income level, qualification level and English language capabilities) are thinly veiled proxies for race (as well as gender, disability status and class). They operate to systematically ‘filter out’ and exclude a ‘second-class tier of migrants, most of whom are people of colour from developing countries.

As a result, migrants of colour can only apply for more precarious temporary visas and then ‘overstay’ these visas once they expire to maintain the life they’ve built for themselves, and in many cases their children and partners as well. They are then made to live in constant fear of prosecution and deportation and are unable to access the same basic rights and entitlements that citizens and permanent residents are given.

It’s important to note that the Government’s deliberate exclusion of migrants (including refugees) of colour from particular regions in the world is underpinned by specific but often overlapping forms of white supremacy and colonial racism – including but not limited to: anti-blackness, Islamophobia, anti-Asian racism and anti-South Asian racism.  

For Pacific peoples, exclusion from permanent residency visas is undoubtedly underpinned by the anti-Pacific racism that was fostered and reinforced by the Dawn Raids in the 1970s.

This anti-Pacific racism means that, unlike white people from wealthy countries, Pacific peoples are unable to be seen as human beings who could add value to Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy and society (despite overwhelming evidence proving the exact opposite every day).

Instead, Pacific bodies are treated as optimal tools for labour that can be exploited for profit and then easily disposed of whenever the government sees fit. This racism has been evident since the Crown’s colonisation of the Pacific (including blackbirding) – and as mentioned above, it was encouraged in the campaigns to blame Pacific migrants for the economic downturn of the 1970s to rationalise the Dawn Raids.

Today, this racism continues to be alive and well in all government institutions and areas of life, including the Government’s shameful Regional Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme and in the racist immigration laws and policies that deny Pacific peoples overstaying their temporary visas pathways to permanent residency. Today, it’s estimated there are around 14,000 people in New Zealand overstaying their visas – the majority of them Pacific peoples.

Whatever the apology entails and regardless of how hard the Government tries to deny us the means to live our lives with dignity, the histories of our people have shown that we’re not going to get any quieter or let anything stop us from fighting against injustice.

Therefore, if the Government truly wants to express genuine remorse for the Dawn Raids (and the ongoing harms it perpetuated against Pacific peoples), one of the many things it must do is provide amnesty for all people overstaying their visas and provide them with equitable pathways to permanent residency. To be clear, amnesty shouldn’t just be granted to Pacific peoples, but to all migrants of colour and marginalised peoples with whom Pacific peoples stand in solidarity.

Of course, such anti-racist actions are bound to trigger racist, xenophobic and nonsensical opposition from many in the country, including members of the National and ACT parties. However, the truth is that Aotearoa New Zealand will have nothing to lose and everything to gain by allowing vulnerable migrants to live their lives with dignity. As president of the Migrant Workers Association, Anu Kaloti states:

“These people are already living here, so it’s not as if we’re going to increase the population. And then there’s the overstayers who are also here, so it makes sense to document them and give the temporary visa holders a more meaningful, permanent solution.”

Mauricio Kimura, vice-president of the Association of New Kiwis Aotearoa (ANKA), also adds that opening up a pathway for temporary migrants to settle will also solve the problems Immigration New Zealand is having with visa processing.

Another action the Government should take is reforming the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982. This piece of legislation was enacted immediately as a hostile reaction to the Privy Council’s decision to grant citizenship to a Samoan woman, Falema’i Lesa, and all other Samoans born between 1920-1948 as promised to them under previous legislation.

The 1982 Act was no doubt driven by the anti-Pacific racism of the 1970s and is a classic illustration of how the government uses immigration laws and policies to render Pacific peoples disposable when convenient. However, as New Zealander lawyer Graeme Edgeler points out, even though the 1982 Act is unjust and racist, repealing wouldn’t be straightforward:

“New Zealand doesn’t have the power to legislate over Samoa anymore, so the Government couldn’t necessarily impose citizenship on a whole bunch of people who are (now) not New Zealand citizens, who might not want it. And the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act provides benefits to Samoans, making gaining citizenship in New Zealand easier if they can obtain permanent residence.”

However, in my view, the Government today can still recognise and remedy the anti-Pacific racism embedded in the 1982 Act by at least offering Samoans born between 1920-1948 New Zealand citizenship (even though many have now passed on) and by keeping any parts of the 1982 Act that are beneficial to Samoans intact.

These actions might seem too radical and drastic, but the reality is that this is the absolute bare minimum that the Government can do, especially given the wider inequities that Pacific peoples face today as a result of the widespread anti-Pacific racism that the Dawn Raids embedded within government institutions and wider society. Much more work needs to be done beyond our education and immigration systems to address the wrongs done against Pacific peoples and crucially, those done against our Māori whanaunga as tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand.

To be clear, there’s a constitution that needs to be transformed to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, land that needs to be given back and many oppressive systems that need to be abolished and reimagined.

In any case, whatever the apology entails and regardless of how hard the Government tries to deny us the means to live our lives with dignity, the histories of our people have shown that we’re not going to get any quieter or let anything stop us from fighting against injustice. We’re in it for the long haul.

Dylan Asafo is a lecturer at Auckland Law School, researching the areas of racial justice and Pacific legal issues.

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