Over 100 asylum seekers have been locked up in cells with hardened criminals, New Zealand outlet Newshub has revealed.
One man spent more than three years in a prison cell before being granted refugee status.
Mt Eden prison is where New Zealand detains some of its most dangerous criminals – and locked up with them are asylum seekers.
“As a Kiwi, I think that we should look after people who are coming here looking for safety rather than putting them in prison,” said Tim Maurice from the Asylum Seekers Support Trust.
“The UN charter that we signed up for says that if people come here – however they come here – seeking asylum, we should look after them, and double-bunking them with convicted murderers, rapists, and gang members isn’t looking after them. Asylum seekers are people who’ve come here looking for safety.”
An asylum seeker Newshub spoke to says he came to New Zealand at the age of 20 on a fake passport, having fled war in his country. He claimed asylum and was detained for seven months in Mt Eden prison while his claim was considered.
“I was crying day and night – I didn’t know what to do,” he told Newshub. “The cellmate I got was a very big man. He was shouting at me that I cannot pray.”
The refugee did not want to be identified, saying he’s afraid his family back home will be harmed if he is.
Immigration NZ refused Newshub an interview but issued a statement which said the majority of asylum seekers are not detained. The reason some are locked up is because there’s a question about their identity.
“We understand that some of them will come on false documents – it’s the only way they can escape from their country,” says Maurice.
Advocates want asylum seekers to stay at the Mangere Refugee Centre instead of being locked up, and only for a maximum of 28 days.
The Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre is the central processing and assessment location for all refugees who arrive in New Zealand. It is a housing complex in Auckland where UN Quota Refugees enter for a six-week period of assessment and orientation prior to resettlement.
Despite the revelations about refugees being held in prison, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says he has no plans to change how asylum seeker cases are handled, and the Government does comply with human rights conventions.
Amnesty International will release a report into the detention of asylum seekers on Tuesday.