NZ routinely rejects Tamil "Mandate-Refugees" for resettlement

New Zealand has over the years rejected, for admission and resettlement, several Tamil refugees, who have already been declared as Refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in compliance with the UNHCR Charter and associated statutes, labelled as "mandate" refugees, even while the quotas for UNHCR recommended refugee intakes, as determined by the Government of New Zealand, were not exceeded, published Government documents show. While individual states can reach independent determination of the refugee status based on the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and 1967 protocol, labelled as "convention" refugees, legal sources say, the differences between UNHCR statutes and Refugee Convention are relatively minimal to produce conflicting statuses between UNHCR and local state determination, according to refugee activists.

Non-contracting countries, and countries which use allowed temporal or geographical limitations, can deny Convention status to mandate-refugees, legal sources say.

New Zealand has provision in its resettlement rule book where the processing officer is tasked to ensure that a particular individual or family does not pose a security, health, or character, or international reputation risk to New Zealand. Risks need to be assessed for each individual over the age of 17 years, according to NZ Government. These provisions provide Refugee Quota Branch (RQB) officials open-ended discretionary authority to refuse resettlement to a mandate refugee, especially from NorthEast of Sri Lanka, who can be easily articulated as posing a security risk, a scene that is routinely played out in the neighboring Australia, legal sources said.

"While Australia, collaborating with Colombo whose alleged genocidal crimes in Mu’l’livaaykkaal drove Tamils to flee Sri Lanka, repatriates many potential Tamil refugees while being accused of violating non-refoulement guidelines of the U.N., New Zealand silently rejects Tamil refugees "approved" by the UNHCR for resettlement in contracting-countries even when UN-agreed quotas have not been exceeded and the refugees pose no risk to security," Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a US-based rights group said.

"We are exploring using the New Zealand’s appeal process, and other legal alternatives to help Tamil "mandate" refugees languishing in Thailand, Malaysia and other East, South-Asian countries and looking for a friendly country where they can restart their lives that was destroyed by the Sri Lankan State," TAG added.

Refugee Quota Branch (RQB) in New Zealand administers refugee intake to New Zealand. Of the 750 places available 265 are allocated to mandate refugees without any special categories such as women-at-risk, Medical/disabled, emergency cases, and family reunification, all of which consumes the other 485 places, the New Zealand country section of a UNHCR report says.

TAG has followed the plight of five different Tamil refugee families stranded in a south asian country and who have been given mandate refugee status by the UNHCR. The failed efforts to find a safe country for resettlement illustrate the difficulties encountered by these families:

Plight of Tamil Mandate Refugees languishing in detention camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia

Family ID

Number of members

Mandate Refugee

Rejected for resettlement by

A 5 Yes

New Zealand, Finland

B 2 Yes

Finland, Holland

C 2 Yes Holland
D 1 Yes

New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Holland, Denmark

E 1 Yes

New Zealand, Finland

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) and the U.S. have traditionally admitted mandate and convention refugees. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. have also joined the U.N. program offering resettlement in the last decade. Since 2007, 13 new countries, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Uruguay, have added their names to the UN’s resettlement list, according to published UNHCR documents.

The UNHCR also notes that while the number of countries has increased, the number of resettlement places has not increased in parallel, and that the U.S., Canada, and, surprisingly, Australia offer 90% of the total resettlement places.

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