Almost 100 Tongans showed up at Auckland Airport last week for a flight home after paying a fraudulent immigration adviser $250 each only to find that there were no tickets waiting for them.
The scam is the latest in a long-running string of fraudulent activity targeting overstayers in the Tongan community. They include asking Tongans to pay up to tens of thousands dollars on the promise of gaining permission to stay in New Zealand.
The problem is, Immigration New Zealand says, the victims are too afraid to speak up for fear of being deported.
The case of the fake tickets has been referred to the Hamilton police who are investigating.
Waikato police spokesman Andrew McAlley said that a number of people had complained about the scam. He said the scams were a "cynical example" of a community exploiting its members.
Other scams had involved asking Tongans to hand over their passports and increasing amounts of cash to secure a residency visa.
The scammers claimed they had "direct contact with the New Zealand Government" and that there was a "team" at the Auckland High Court that did all the paper work. Included were top Government officials, including the Immigration Minister.
Tongan community advocate Amelia Schaaf said there was a disturbing trend of some in the Tongan community manipulating others, even among licensed immigration advisers.
"They are cheating Tongan people with them charging $3000 to $5000 and no work being done."
She said people were afraid to speak up.
"What safeguards are there for them? They are overstaying and breaking the law but if they are being cheated there needs to be a system that protects them if they come forward."
Immigration New Zealand spokesperson Dean Blakemore said it was very concerning to hear of the scams and while his staff were "committed and passionate about helping people get favourable outcomes" he could not guarantee that those that came forward would be allowed to stay in New Zealand.
"But without a compliant we can't have an investigation."
Tongan journalist Ulualo Pouhila, who has been investigating the scams, said it had been going on for too long.
"The whole mess is far, far bigger than we thought. It's raw and it's embarrassing."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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