April 09, 2012

New Zealand Herald - Flooded Fijians plead for residency

By Lincoln Tan
5:30 AM Monday Apr 9, 2012

Fijians who lost their family homes in floods are appealing to Immigration New Zealand to let them apply for residency under the department's Pacific Access Category (Pac).

The Samoan quota was started in 1970 as part of the 1962 Treaty of Friendship between New Zealand and Samoa, and the Pac was started in 2002 to provide a similar path to permanent residence for citizens of Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

But Fiji has been excluded since 2006 as part of New Zealand's sanctions on immigration.

Tika Ram, a licensed immigration adviser from Fiji who led a petition in 2009 signed by about 300 people, received a letter from the previous Immigration Minister saying the sanctions would remain as a response "to the undemocratic actions taken by the Fiji military".

New Zealand-Fijian relations have been tense since Commodore Frank Bainamarama took over the country in a military coup in 2006.

In the wake of the recent floods that have ravaged the country, leaving several dead or missing and at least 8000 in evacuation centres, Mr Ram says he will again be pushing the department to let Fiji nationals to be included.

"The sanctions are just punishing innocent victims and Fiji citizens who have nothing to do with the military regime, and that's unfair," Mr Ram said. "Now we have a group who have been badly hit by Mother Nature, and we are asking for New Zealand to have a heart."

Mr Ram said Fijians in New Zealand affected by the floods would number in the hundreds.

Panel beater Mohammed Muneer, 29, says he has "nothing to go home to" after his family home in Nadi was submerged.

Mr Muneer has been in New Zealand since 2009, and his wife has also found employment as a cafeteria assistant at the airport.

"I really don't know how to survive if we have to go back. I'd do anything to remain here for the sake of my wife and 6-year-old son," Mr Muneersaid.

Taxi driver Denash Patel, 44, will also be appealing to the department to let his cousin, who lost his home in the floods, apply under the Pac.

"New Zealand shouldn't be so petty, and there is no better time than now to be lifting the immigration sanctions," said Mr Patel.

Steve Stuart, acting head of Immigration, said the Pac "was not designed as a response to natural disasters".

"Fiji was suspended from participation in the Pac following the 2006 coup in Fiji. There has been no change in New Zealand Government policy on this matter."

However, Mr Stuart said the department would "consider sympathetically any requests for visas by customers who are not currently able to [go to] an area affected by a natural disaster".

Registrations for the annual Pacific quota ballot can be submitted until the end of this month.

The schemes allow up to 1100 Samoan citizens and 400 citizens from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga to be granted New Zealand residence.

Applicants will be made to face tougher tests this time, including the principal applicant having a job offer from a New Zealand employer that meets a minimum income threshold set at the level of the unemployment benefit plus the accommodation supplement.

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