On Saturday, 18 February the Indian students, having had confirmation that all legal and political avenues to challenge their deportation orders have been exhausted, held a final public meeting to thank all their supporters and members of the Auckland Unitarian Church for giving them sanctuary. They are currently making arrangements to return to India voluntarily.
This has been a difficult and courageous stand on their part. While the outcome has not been what was sought, a spotlight has been shown on an unjust system that punishes the victims and not the perpetrators. Our hope is that the media and political leaders will continue to investigate recruitment policies of for-profit educational schools and immigration policies that permit the exploitation of international students.
Auckland Unitarian Church have been recognised and applauded widely for our leadership and commitment to the principles we hold. We are proud of our choice to offer radical hospitality.
On 5th February our church considered an emergency request by Indian students for support from the congregation. The students are facing deportation from New Zealand and were asking for “symbolic” sanctuary. The idea of sanctuary, where a religious building can be used to protect those sought by the authorities, is an ancient practice but has no standing in NZ law. So, more specifically, the students were asking to be provided a place to stay while they make their case in the court of public opinion. This request was made last Thursday through a Catholic deacon involved in peace and social justice matters. It was clear from our conversation that all their appeals to Immigration NZ had been exhausted and other options were not apparent.
The students approached agents in India to apply for education visas, which normally allow them to study here and spend a year in related employment as part of their education.
They received the visas, began their education and then were notified by Immigration New Zealand that their applications included fraudulent claims and they must leave voluntarily or be deported. The agents, without the students’ knowledge, had made the fraudulent claims. The students appealed but, beginning last Thursday, they began to be notified that their appeals were being denied and they were subject to deportation.
Arranging visas for international students to study in NZ is big business for agents in their home country, for private schools here and for the local economy. The business is subject to corruption. The agents receive as much as a 50% kickback from the schools who charge the students $20,000 to $30,000 for their education. Immigration New Zealand has only recently become more vigilant in reviewing these applications. They have not yet acknowledged their own responsibility in this mess. They have targeted these nine students who are being victimised.
The church supports these students in their efforts to complete their educational plans, including one year work experience (that was part of the plan) and asks the Government to find a solution to allow these students to remain on humanitarian grounds.