Couple claim Customs humiliated them

22:10, Oct 08 2012
DENIED ENTRY: Veronica Lazarovici and her husband Madalin Vannatoru.
DENIED ENTRY: Veronica Lazarovici and her husband Madalin Vannatoru.

A Romanian couple say they were humiliated by a Customs officer at Auckland Airport before they were put on a plane back home.

Veronica Lazarovici and her husband Madalin Vannatoru arrived in New Zealand on September 22 and thought they would breeze through customs, but instead were questioned by Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

Lazarovici planned to study in New Zealand and had a list of places she wished to visit, but immigration officials instead believed the couple were looking to work illegally in the country and would never return home.

While waiting to be questioned, Lazaraovici says she was shocked to hear a custom officer say "No more Romanians". She believes she was refused entry to New Zealand purely because of her race.

"My husband and I are both Romanians. Clearly that comment was made about us," she said.

A Customs spokeswoman said the agency had since apologised to the couple for the "off the cuff" comment, which was "please don't send me any more Romanians", rather than "No more Romanians".

"This matter has been fully investigated and the investigation found that an inappropriate comment was made by an officer to a fellow border officer, which was overheard and misconstrued," the spokeswoman said, adding that it was particularly regrettable because "it was made within earshot of members of the public".

Lazarovici and Vannatoru never stepped foot outside of Auckland Airport.

The couple say that Lazarovici intended to study in New Zealand. She had $17,000 to pay her fees and acceptance letters from tertiary providers, but had not enrolled because she wanted to see the institutions before handing over the money.

"I am talking here about two people with no criminal record, who have travelled to many places around the world and never had any problems but treated as criminals by Immigration New Zealand," she said.

INZ did not buy the couple's story.

"INZ was not satisfied they were bona fide visitors. On arrival the couple claimed to be coming for a general visit, but despite planning the trip for over two months, they could not explain in any detail what they wanted to see or do in New Zealand," a spokeswoman said.

"INZ believes that the couple intended to work unlawfully in New Zealand and had little incentive to return to their home country."

Lazarovici had resigned from her job the week before travelling to New Zealand and her husband stated that he was a self-employed maintenance worker, but could not substantiate that he was actually employed or had a job to return to, the spokeswoman said.

But Lazarovici said she showed immigration officials copies of correspondence she had with tertiary providers, hotel reservations she had made and a list of places she wanted to visit.

She requested taped recordings of the meeting, which she says includes her telling officers how she wanted to visit Sky Tower, Auckland's volcanoes, go to hot springs, hiking trips, catch the ferry between the North and South islands and ride Wellington's "famous tram car".

Now back home, Lazarovici says she is struggling to come to terms with never being able to do any of that.