Tight border security halts hundreds at border

Last updated 05:00 10/02/2013

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Malaysians and Pacific Islanders kept immigration officials busiest last year with Eastern Europeans popping up higher on the list than ever before.

Numbers released under the Official Information Act showed of the 890 people turned around at New Zealand airports last year, 110 were Malaysians.

Immigration New Zealand's manager of border operations, Karen Urwin, said Malaysians often showed up at the top of the list because they were one of a handful of visa-free countries and so there was little vetting done before they showed up on our doorstep.

High unemployment in the Southeast Asian country and the frequent flights to Auckland exacerbated the issue, she said.

There were similar problems in Australia.

"A lot come to New Zealand for a better life - you can't really fault them for that I guess," Urwin said.

Unlike previous years, Romanians were the sixth most frequently refused entry with 36 sent back home. Eighteen Bulgarians were also denied.

Urwin said the majority of them belonged to large gangs bringing credit-card and ATM skimming devices into the country.

"In the last few months it's not been so prevalent but there was a time New Zealand was the country of choice," she said.

A lot of time was spent profiling and Urwin said it was often easy to predict where the next slew of potentially illegal immigrants would come from.

"If you look at who's going to want to come to New Zealand, possibly illegally, it'd be a no-brainer to say things aren't great in the Middle East," she said.

Though Immigration had access to many different global databases, often the methods used to protect the country's border were quite simple.

Urwin was often astounded by what people put on Facebook and a cursory Google search of someone's name was often enough to unlock a shady past.

Fewer than 10 per cent of people were denied entry to New Zealand because of "character concerns" though.

The majority - more than two-thirds - had "non-genuine reasons" for coming here, which included having insufficient funds, health concerns, no outward ticket or no passport.

Of the people who made it into the country, our Pacific neighbours were the most frequently deported. Out of 767 who were forcibly removed from New Zealand, 251 were from the islands.

Immigration's branch manager for compliance and operations, Dean Blakemore, said last year's figures showed no great difference from previous years.

One thing that was changing, though, was the way they worked with overstayers to leave the country without having to go through the process of deportation.

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If someone is considered to be living here unlawfully, the department makes contact with them via text message or email. That graduates to a phone call or letter if there is no response and finally an immigration officer may track them down and take them into custody.

Blakemore said deportation was generally a last resort and in the past year there were 1393 "voluntary departures", who paid their own costs to return to their country of origin.

The drawbacks to being deported included a "banned period", which stopped people travelling overseas for a set time span, and once that was explained people were usually keen to avoid it, he said.

Recent estimates put New Zealand's illegal resident population at 15,000 but Blakemore said the number had come down significantly over recent years.

- Sunday Star Times

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