New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has issued a formal apology for the historic racist surveillance of the Pacific population and has offered scholarships to Pacific students.
Hundreds of people packed Auckland City Hall on Sunday to hear apologies for the “dawn raids” of the 1970s, during which authorities sought visas for people who were left without a visa.
The practice took place under New Zealand’s two main political parties, beginning with Labor Prime Minister Norman Kirk and continuing with the National’s Robert Muldoon.
Studies have since shown that Pacific peoples were no more likely to stay longer than migrants from the US and UK, but were much more likely to be processed.
State-backed discrimination and subsequent deportations separated families and devastated communities.
“It was so painful,” said Aupito William Sio, the Pacific peoples minister, who lived through the raids.
“Some nights it was 3, 4 a.m. … there was a knock on the front door and on [the police would] come.
“I remember walking down our street and some of the other older kids were making fun of us. They said ‘go home, coco’. That was the atmosphere.
“Even today my father can’t talk about it … many have been so ashamed.”
The apology featured many traditional elements from the Pacific and Aotearoa.
After a powhiri, with speeches, songs and the Maori “hongi” greeting between the community and government leaders, Ardern addressed the audience in four languages: Te Reo Maori, Tongan, Samoan and English.
“I stand before you as a representative of those who hurt you,” he said in Samoan.
“While no amount of rain can wash the bitter salt out of ocean waters, I ask that you allow our spiritual connection to ease your pain and allow forgiveness to flow on this day.”
As many in the crowd wept, Ardern said he felt the effects of the dawn raids today.
“It is vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly affected. He continues to live in the breakdown of trust and faith in the authorities, and he continues to live in the unresolved grievances of the Pacific communities.
“Today, I am on behalf of the New Zealand government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to the Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the raids.”
Ardern said he wanted to “pave a new dawn” for Pacific communities and announced $ NZ3.1m in scholarships for Pacific students in New Zealand and the region.
The government will also incorporate dawn raids into the history curriculum and support artists and historians from the Pacific to create an official record of abuse.
Sunday’s formal apology follows two others from former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
The first went to Chinese immigrants who for many years were asked to pay a specific tax, and the second went to Samoa for mistreatment during New Zealand’s colonial administration.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism