Home-schoolers denied asylum

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012

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A German family who say they were persecuted for home-schooling their children have failed in a last-ditch bid to stay in New Zealand.

The Schoeneich family's second attempt to gain refugee status, this time on humanitarian grounds, has failed and they now face deportation.

Home schooling is illegal in Germany and the family claims they would face fines, loss of custody and possible imprisonment if they returned.

The parents, Andrea and Gerno, decide to home-school their children on religious grounds, believing the German state education was socialist and conflicted with their strong Christian beliefs.

After fighting with education officials in Germany - including receiving more than $6000 in fines - the family came to New Zealand in 2008 on temporary visas.

They now live in Waipu, Northland, where Mr Schoeneich works as a school teacher.

In appealing for refugee status, they claimed their two youngest children would be "completely devastated" if they were forced to enrol in state schools in Germany.

If they were deported, the two older children would struggle to find work and the family would not be able to obtain accommodation, because "home schoolers" were discriminated against, they claimed.

But in a decision released this week, the Immigration and Protection Tribunal rejected these arguments.

There was little evidence to support claims of hardship and it was highly unlikely they would be imprisoned, the tribunal found. It pointed out: "There is no right at international law to home schooling."

Schoeneich declined to comment on the decision when contacted by the Sunday Star-Times.

The family may have received a more favourable hearing if they had fled to the United States. About two years ago, another Christian German family home-schooling their children were granted political asylum there.

A judge found the family had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to Germany.

Home Schooling New Zealand principal Todd Roughton said he felt for the Schoeneichs, who should be able to control their children's education. "They are being denied by the state."

Home Schooling New Zealand provides support for parents teaching about 750 New Zealand children at home a Christian "world view".

Roughton said state schools - in New Zealand and Europe - imposed a world view that was morally abhorrent for many Christian families. "If we were obliged to put our kids in a state school, we would leave the country too."

Home Education Foundation national director Barbara Smith, who has been helping the family since they came to New Zealand, said going back to Germany would be a disaster.

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"They will face fines and have their children taken away," she said.

She believed the decision to deny them refugee status was wrong, citing the similar successful case in the United States.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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