New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the issue of immigration raids that were conducted in the country in the 1970s which disproportionately targeted Pacific Islanders instead of UK, Australia, and South African overstayers.
The raids, known as the Dawn Raids, targeted people who overstayed their visas in the country, forcing them to go back home to their countries of origin. In a recent statement, Ardern issued a "formal and unreserved apology."
The apology came as the raids disproportionately targeted Pacific Islanders despite the majority of people who overstayed their visas coming from other nations. Ardern noted many Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand still suffered and carried the scars of those years. The prime minister said she hoped her apology would serve as closure for affected families.
Ardern delivered her speech during an event attended by a gathering of affected families, Pacific Island dignitaries, and government officials from Auckland. Princess Mele Sui'ilikutapu of Tonga reportedly accepted the prime minister's apology and the government's address of the "inhumane and unjust" treatment of her people. The royalty said Ardern's apology was a "dawn for my community," BBC reported.
The New Zealand government during the 1970s launched the Dawn Raids that operated in early mornings to enter the homes and workplaces of people who overstayed their visas at the time. After the end of World War II, the country welcomed thousands of migrants from Pacific Islands after a boom in the economy, causing a large demand for workers. Government officials said that by 1976 there were approximately over 50,000 Pacific Islanders in New Zealand.
However, the economic crisis in the early 1970s caused a surge in unemployment rates with some politicians and members of the press opting to target migrants. In 1974, the raids began to force people back to their home countries, an effort that continued through the decade. Many religious, political, and civil groups have criticized the government's decision until it was stopped by the start of the 1980s.
"Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the events of the Dawn Raids," Prime Minister Ardern said during her speech, Reuters reported.
Aupito William Sio, New Zealand's Minister for Pacific Peoples, was one of the victims of the Dawn Raids during his teenage years. He revealed that his memories of that day were vividly etched into his memories.
In June, Sio said that people knocked on their door in the early morning hours and flashed a light in his face. He considered the act to be a disrespect to the owner of the home while an Alsatian dog was frothing at the mouth, eagerly waiting for a chance to come in. Sio said the experience was very traumatizing.
After Ardern made her and the government's apology, Sio said it was the beginning of deeper and longer conversations. He noted that the comprehensive history of the Dawn Raids was a gift by the New Zealand official, NPR reported.