Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says Indian students facing deportation are not victims and need to leave New Zealand.
Nine Indian students plan to seek sanctuary at an Auckland church, defying their orders to leave the country after their appeal to the Minister of Immigration was turned down.
The students insist they cannot be held responsible for the fraudulent documents that got them into the country in the first place. They said they had no idea what their Indian education agents were up to.
Being deported would ruin their lives, they said.
Minister Michael Woodhouse was unsympathetic. The students had committed immigration fraud, he said. He said anyone who submitted a visa application was ultimately responsible for ensuring the information on it was correct - no matter who filled it out. Mr Woodhouse said other students who were caught up in the same investigation left voluntarily. Those who did not could be forcibly removed, but he would not speculate what might happen if they sought sanctuary.
The students said they would hold sanctuary at the church until Mr Woodhouse intervened and cancelled their deportation notices, or they were forced to the airport. The Unite Union has organised a Waitangi Day event at an inner-city Auckland church, where the students will resurface. Sanctuary does not hold any legal status in New Zealand.
Asha Rani, Hargeet Singh, Hussain Syed, Manoj Narra, Shahad DM, Mohammed Mohammed and Pradeep Reddy were at Unite Union's office last night. They said they had no option but to fight the orders, and Immigration New Zealand was playing with their lives. Ms Rani's husband, Vikram Salaria, was in tears.
While he was a student with a current visa, he said he would have to return to India with his wife and their 2-year-old daughter if they were forced to leave.
He said the students had paid a "really big price". Most of the students have told their parents their student visas have been pending. "We can't apply for another country and to society I will be a fool; in front of my parents we wasted our parents' money; in our lifetime and our future we can't go anywhere. It's a dead end for us," one student said.
One student said he did not tell his father, because he was not educated and would not understand.
Mr Shahad said his mother was in hospital for a heart condition and he worried what would happen if he told her.
How can they blame us?
The students said they were an easy target and the New Zealand government should take responsibility for the poor systems that allowed the fraud in the first place. "So how can they blame us - only us? Not the agents, not the department, not the officers?" Mr Mohammed said.
Mr Narra said in India there were streets full of immigration agents. He could not understand how he was supposed to know which agent was good and which was bad, he said.
Immigration New Zealand should have a list of trusted agents on its website, so students in the future would not face the same situation, he said.
Five of the students, who are represented by immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont, received their deportation letters yesterday. The letters said the student was liable for deportation and may be deported at the discretion of Immigration New Zealand. The letters encouraged the students to make their own arrangements to leave.
Mr Clymont said once the students were served, they could be deported at any time. "Some cases, we find they will react within a day and you'll find immigration officers and police at someone's door. Other times you find that they never do anything, and it really seems to be a matter of how easy it is for them to actually arrest and deport somebody."
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