Committee hears more on plight of 'hope seekers' from Tuvalu – RNZ

Parliament’s Education and Workforce Committee has been considering the plight of people who migrated to New Zealand from Tuvalu and live here without the legal status that would allow them the right to work or to gain residency.
It follows on from a report on undocumented Tuvaluans in the country by Unitec, whose authors and members of the Tuvalu community appeared before the committee last month.
Pacific Islander doing seasonal work under the RSE scheme in Hawke’s Bay. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades
One of them was Paani Laupepa who spoke on behalf of this community, people doing whatever work was on offer.
“We call them ‘hope seekers’ not ‘overstayers’, because there’s always that negative connotation attached to that term, ‘overstayers’. 
“Having been one myself, I can speak from my heart telling you how hard it is, since we are always viewed as lawbreakers, and in that negative sense people take advantage of us, unscrupulous employers,” Laupepa explained.
“But the fact of the matter is we are hard working people trying to build a life here in New Zealand. We get up and go to work every day, we pay our fair share of taxes, we rent our own homes, pay our own rent, benefit the landlords. We pay for the power, the internet, the utilities, the ACC, even the fuel levy.”
Those hope seekers who do not have visas are unable to access a wide range of services and benefits available to residents of this country and citizens. What’s more, they remain at constant risk of deportation. According to the Unitec report, “young people are particularly disadvantaged and trapped under the current visa/residence system, potentially facing a very difficult future”. 
Rachel O’Connor, Lead Advisor to the Race Relations Commissioner briefs the Education and Workforce Select Committee on undocumented Tuvaluans in Auckland Photo: Phil Smith
The select committee wanted to know the human rights implications, so asked a representative of the Human Rights Commission for a briefing. The lead advisor to the Race Relations Commissioner, Rachel O’Connor told the committee that the Commission is very concerned about what on face value are consistent breaches of human rights law.
“We’re concerned about a number of the examples that are raised in the report, particularly where there are unmet rights particularly in relation to health, housing, education and employment. So we would encourage the committee to particularly consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“I point you particularly in relation to Declaration of Human Rights, article 25, regarding everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family.”
“So we note particular examples in there around (being) unable to access legal employment. We know that in those situations people  are likely to undertake survival work, and of course that increases vulnerability to exploitation.”
Labour MP Ibrahim Omer in select committee Photo: Phil Smith
Labour MP Ibrahim Omer asked O’Connor what areas the “hope seekers” tended to work in, and where they experienced exploitation. While she didn’t have that information to hand, the report indicated that a lot of Tuvaluans who have come to New Zealand to work have got jobs in horticulture at minimum wage.
O’Connor also referred to the Commission’s concerns the report’s findings about children without valid visas, “both that the children are affected by the breach of rights from their parents regarding housing and employment, but also specific examples to the children regarding access to tertiary education, healthcare.
“We encourage the committee to particularly pay attention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of which New Zealand is a signatory, particularly article 2 where it speaks about parties should take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of status activities.”
New Zealand has registered three reservations against that convention. O’Connor said that technically under international law this allowed New Zealand to discriminate against children based on immigration status.
National Party MP Penny Simmonds in select committee. Photo: Phil Smith
However, National MP Penny Simmonds was concerned about the broader implications of changing that.
“But if you were to change that to consider that was a breach, then that would have much wider implications for all the children of students on student visas, that they aren’t all eligible, or parents on working visas where the children aren’t eligible for free tertiary education. So there’s quite broad implications in that space, isn’t there.”
Rachel O’Connor says there has been some thought in that space by the Children’s Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission, who she said could provide some direction to target the affected children without implicating kids of international students and others who Simmonds mentioned.
The Commission has also encouraged the Government to consider potential pathways to amnesty for the undocumented Tuvaluans regarding their status in New Zealand.
“In everything we do, we are New Zealanders. All we are asking for is help, and the help that we are asking for is amnesty,” Laupepa said last month.
“If we could be given amnesty, then our contribution (to the country) would increase even more.”
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