Jacinda Ardern has formally apologised to a tearful Pacific Island community for New Zealand’s ‘racist’ 1970s Dawn Raids which saw islanders targeted for deportation in a series of aggressive police crackdowns.
The prime minister was draped with a large white mat and embraced during the emotional ceremony in Auckland in the traditional ritual known as an ifoga.
It sees the subject seeking forgiveness by exposing themselves to public humiliation.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern formally apologised to Pacific communities for the racially targeted “Dawn Raids” that took place in the 1970s pic.twitter.com/iqFmcPrw7f
— TRT World (@trtworld) August 1, 2021
The Dawn Raids saw Pacific Island people captured from 1974 to 1976 in aggressive home raids by authorities to find, convict and deport overstayers, often very early in the morning or late at night.
The apology did not come with any legal changes but many Pacific people say it represented an important first step.
Ardern said her government will provide NZ$2.1million (£1million) in academic and vocational scholarships for Pacific communities and £500,000 in leadership scholarships for young people from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Tuvalu, among others.
She told a crowd of several hundred that the government was offering a formal and unreserved apology.
‘The government expresses its sorrow, remorse, and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate,’ she said.
At the time of the raids, many Pacific people had come to New Zealand on temporary visas to help fill a need for workers in the nation’s factories and fields.
Wellington encouraged migration from Pacific islands such as Samoa, Tonga and Fiji after World War II to fill worker shortages as the economy expanded.
But the government appeared to turn on the community by deciding those workers were no longer needed.
People who did not look like white New Zealanders were told they should carry identification to prove they were not overstayers, and were often randomly stopped in the street, or even at schools or churches.
Even though many overstayers at the time were British or American, mainly Pacific people were targeted for deportation.
Pacific people comprised a third of overstayers but represented 86 percent of prosecutions, while Britons and Americans in New Zealand – who also comprised a third of overstayers – saw just five percent of prosecutions in the same period.
Minister for Pacific Peoples William Sio, who emigrated with his family from Samoa to New Zealand in 1969, described the raids as ‘racism of the worst kind’.
Ms Ardern said that while the raids took place almost 50 years ago, their legacy continued.
‘It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted. It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities.
‘And it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities that these events happened and that to this day they have gone unaddressed.
‘There were no reported raids on any homes of people who were not Pacific; no raids or random stops were exacted towards European people.’
Ms Ardern said that as a gesture of goodwill, the government would fund new education and training scholarships for Pacific communities and would help compile an official account of the raids from written records and oral history.
‘As part of this, the community will have the opportunity to come forward and share their experiences,’ Ms Ardern said.
Tongan Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili said the impact of the Dawn Raids had haunted her community for generations.
‘We are grateful to your government for making the right decision to apologise,’ she said to Ms Ardern. ‘To right the extreme, inhumane, racist and unjust treatment, specifically against my community, in the Dawn Raids era.’
The princess said that while some members of her Tongan community might have been on the wrong side of the law at the time, it did not warrant the extreme measures taken against them.
But the princess said the government could do a better job of responding to current immigration needs, a comment which drew sustained applause.
She said petitions had been submitted to find pathways and residency for overstayers and visa-holders.
‘This is a new dawn for my community and the Pacific community at large,’ she said.
When Ardern first announced she would issue an apology, Sio fought back tears as he recalled the terrifying experience of being targeted.
‘The memories are etched in of my father being helpless… someone knocking at your door in the early hours of the morning with a flashlight in your face, disrespecting the owner of our home,’ he said.
‘An Alsatian dog frothing at the mouth, wanting to come in without any respect for the people who live there. It was quite traumatising.’
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Author: Henry Wolff
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