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Halt deportations during pandemic?

Editorial

A plea from Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon to stop deporting people until the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic comes as the Government wrestles with a problem of migrant workers and people who have been trapped here.

His call comes as there are indications some overstayers are reluctant to test for Covid-19 and the country faces a potential crisis for obtaining seasonal workers this summer.

The former Gisborne Mayor says there are literally thousands of overstayers in the country. His plea is for an amnesty on deportation until Covid is over because it is more of a health issue than a deportation or visa expiry one.

He is right when he says the message needs to be clear that they are not going to be deported and there should be an amnesty.

Former Immigration minister Tuariki Delamere also wants deportations to be halted until the pandemic is over.

He says many overstayers have lived here for decades, some as far back as the 1990s. They are not just limited to Pacific Islanders but include migrants from many other parts of the world. A few slipped in during simpler times when the border was not so secure.

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont says he knows of Fijian overstayers who got in by jumping off boats as they docked at the port of Tauranga.

Worryingly, Pacific Forum representative Makahokovalu Pailate who attended the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church, the epicentre of a mini cluster in Auckland, would have no incentive to come forward to Ministry of Health contact tracers. Efforts to contact all of them continue.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has assured people that the health authorities will not pass on the personal information of those who were here illegally to immigration authorities. Contact tracing is at the very heart of New Zealand's efforts to eliminate the virus. Anyone refusing to co-operate is putting the whole of the counry's programme to eradicate the virus at risk.

Also this week the government extended work visas for those already on shore and the 16,500 people on essential skills visas by six months. There will be a lot of sympathy for the migrant workers who fill important jobs in industries like horticulture. People who want to work and cannot get out of the country should surely be allowed to work.

Mr Foon wants them all to not fear a dreaded knock on the door similar to the overstayer raids of the 70s and 80s.