Manawatu Standard

Deportatio­n in age of Covid


The grass, they used to say, is always greener on the other side of the fence. Then Covid-19 sprayed herbicide all over that metaphor. The now blighted state of so many other countries is adding to the already difficult task of deporting people from our shores in good conscience, even when they have transgress­ed rules required of them to stay here.

It’s reached the stage where Immigratio­n NZ’S get-thee-gone approach is increasing­ly being rejected by the appeal body, the Immigratio­n and Protection Tribunal. In a significan­t call the tribunal has said it would be unjust and unduly harsh to deport Talwinder Singh to India’s Covidstric­ken Punjab.

As recently as April the tribunal refused to cancel the deportatio­n of another Indian man who lost his visa,

Tohil Kalia. Back then the crisis was not deemed enough to trigger humanitari­an protection­s. But by any measure India’s situation has deteriorat­ed considerab­ly since April. Yet Immigratio­n NZ declares it won’t be changing its approach as a result of the latest rebuff.

A rebuff that scarcely stands in isolation. Covid concerns in 2020 led to the cancelled deportatio­n of a pregnant woman and her family to India, at a time of ‘‘uncontroll­ed’’ virus spread, and a Brazilian woman, who would have headed to a climate of civil unrest and the collapse of the health system.

The updated message from the Singh case suggests there’s now an impasse that needs to be resolved between Immigratio­n NZ’S perspectiv­e and that of the tribunal. If it’s not resolved, the prediction­s of immigratio­n advisors, including former immigratio­n minister Tuariki Delamere, seem plausible. We’re facing a logjam of appeals and an effective halt to deportatio­ns until the pandemic is over.

And the appeal route might plausibly be there not only for those lined up to be frogmarche­d out of the country for offences like Singh’s, of using a fraudulent­ly obtained driving licence, or Kalia’s drink-driving conviction, but also for those nabbed as overstayer­s. Of whom, at times, there are more than just a few.

There have long been provisions to stay the hand of deporters where there are ‘‘exceptiona­l circumstan­ces of a humanitari­an nature’’. The potential for a returnee to be facing torture or a state of warfare, for instance. The difficulty here is that Covid-19 has made palpable humanitari­an danger dreadfully unexceptio­nal.

Nor is the situation in any way stable. Or likely to stabilise, given the idiocy of putative leaders like Boris Johnson and his wahey approach to pandemic risk – something worth taking provided the domestic death rate is mostly confined to the elderly who are otherwise lingering around without being much economic or political use to him.

The sheer scale of the pandemic, and the extent to which situations can deteriorat­e quickly, will make it fiendishly hard to be consistent in our approach, in the near future at least. It will often be terribly difficult to assess with more than tentative confidence the real depths of peril that may await those we cast from our midst, for offences that we would not for a moment consider should be at the cost of their lives.

But wherever we draw the line, and however adeptly we move it as circumstan­ces change, there will always be people who are caught on the wrong side of it. The challenge comes down to being appropriat­ely reactive in our methodolog­y, but still consistent in our morality. Being clear among ourselves what would be a decent reaction, and what wouldn’t. In that respect, a strong steer from the public, if we can muster one, would be useful.

The challenge is to be appropriat­ely reactive in our methodolog­y, but still consistent in our morality.

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