AUCKLAND (Dispatches) – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a somber state apology on Sunday to the Pacific community for racially targeted immigration raids in the 1970s that resulted in deportations and prosecutions.
The “Dawn Raids”, which often occurred early in the morning, took place from 1974 to 1976 when New Zealand’s economy was in a downturn and the government clamped down on immigrant workers from the Pacific who overstayed their work visas.
At the time of the raids, many people from the Pacific islands – including Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – had come to New Zealand on temporary visas to help fill a need for workers in the country’s factories and fields.
But the government appeared to turn on the community during a downturn in the 1970s, amid claims they were taking jobs from New Zealanders. People who did not look like white New Zealanders were told they should carry identification to prove they were not overstayers and were often randomly stopped in the street, or even at schools or churches.
Addressing hundreds of people in attendance for the formal apology, Ardern said members of the Pacific communities continue to “suffer and carry the scars” of the raids in which they were specifically targeted and racially profiled.
“Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the events of the Dawn Raids,” Ardern said.
“The government expresses its sorrow, remorse, and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate.”
Pacific people comprised a third of overstayers but represented 86 percent of prosecutions, while Britons and Americans in New Zealand – who also comprised a third of overstayers – saw just 5 percent of prosecutions in the same period.
“It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted. It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities. And it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities that these events happened and that to this day they have gone unaddressed,” Ardern said.