Religious leaders speak out over Indian students' deportation
Leaders from three of New Zealand's biggest churches are backing a group of Indian students who are facing deportation.
The religious leaders, from the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches, released a joint statement on Monday in support of the students, who were given deportation orders after the Government learned they arrived on fraudulent visas.
The students said they and 190 others had been ripped off by Indian immigration agents, who lied on official forms without their knowledge.
A decision is expected this week on whether they can remain in the country.
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The nine students and a toddler have been staying at the Unitarian Church in Auckland's Ponsonby since last Monday, in symbolic sanctuary.
Cardinal John Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington, Philip Richardson, the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and Reverend Prince Devandanan, the President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, said they believed the students had never intended to deceive the government.
"Having looked at their situation it seems to us that these students have been duped by unscrupulous immigration agents in India," Richardson said.
"In previous similar cases we understand that where documentation had been deemed falsified by immigration agents then the group was allowed to stay."
Most of the students were taxpaying workers, according to their visa conditions, and they were contributing to the New Zealand economy, the statement said.
They could not draw New Zealand benefits because they were not citizens or residents.
Immigration New Zealand seemed to have erred in its processes and the actions of the immigration agents needed careful scrutiny, the religious leaders said.
Dew called on the government to "reconsider" the students' cases.
"We do so on the basis of concern for the human situation of the students, our Christian responsibility to care for 'the stranger, the widow and the orphan' among us, and a concern for just application of NZ's immigration policy."
Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said on Monday that the students remained at the church.
"I was told on Friday by Immigration New Zealand that they weren't going to take any action over the weekend," he said.
"We're expecting something in the next two or three days, one way or another."
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said earlier that people were ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their visa documentation.
He said it was no excuse for the students to claim they were unaware of their agents' activities.
Immigration NZ's general manager for visa services, Steve Stuart, said the students had exhausted their options to remain in the country.
They have been invited to leave voluntarily, or "arrangements will be made for them to be deported".