Couple leave New Zealand after former associate minister refuses to intervene

An Indian couple have been given their daughter back, but lost their fight with Immigration New Zealand and have had to ...
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

An Indian couple have been given their daughter back, but lost their fight with Immigration New Zealand and have had to leave the country.

An Indian family who feared torture and death if they returned home have left New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is standing by its decision not to grant the couple and their Christchurch-born daughter refugee status. 

The couple, who cannot be named because of Immigration Act restrictions, lived in the city on visitor and student visas until earlier this year.

An Indian couple failed in their appeal to be granted refugee status in NZ.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

An Indian couple failed in their appeal to be granted refugee status in NZ.

In February, the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT) rejected an appeal to grant them and their baby either refugee or protected-person status.

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Child Youth and Family (CYF) removed the couple's child when it told INZ they would rather take their own lives than return to India. The baby was returned to their care 18 days later.

The woman told the tribunal the pair left India for New Zealand in September 2015, claiming they would be persecuted by her wealthy, influential and politically-connected family for their "mis-matched marriage".

She spoke of being locked in a room for 20 days when her family found out she was seeing her now husband.

Her father threw hot chilli powder in her eyes and, at least two or three times, threatened to set her alight for dishonouring the family.

If they returned to India, the couple feared her family would use its political connections to find and seriously harm or kill them.

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The IPT decision outlined there was "a real chance" the wife's family would "make good" on its threats if the pair returned to India.

It found the couple were not refugees within the meaning of the Refugee Convention, nor protected people under the Convention Against Torture or Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The couple would not be at risk of persecution if they moved to a large Indian city, other than their hometown, the tribunal ruled.

David Bennett, who was Associate Immigration Minister until a cabinet reshuffle earlier this year, would not answer questions about why he would not intervene.

With all options exhausted, the couple wrote to Bennett three times in January and February to request his intervention.

"I have carefully considered your representations. I advise I am not prepared to intervene in this case," Bennett responded in May.

"I suggest you contact the compliance group of Immigration New Zealand and arrange your voluntary departure."

Under the Immigration Act, Bennett was not obliged to give reasons for his decision.

Bennet told Stuff: "I stand by my decision made on this case". 

Bennett would not respond to questions about how satisfied he was the appropriate steps were taken for the family.

He did not respond to a question about what steps he took to assess the couple's claims and requests before dismissing their request.

INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy said the agency "believes it has dealt with the family in an entirely professional and appropriate way".

"Their applications were fully considered, but subsequently declined," he said.

"Although the couple's child was born in New Zealand, she is not a New Zealand citizen so there was no option for her to remain here without her parents."

The couple left New Zealand on July 3 with their child, now 10 months old.

The wife said her baby's health and weight had deteriorated since leaving New Zealand.

"She is not eating anything and [is] unhealthy, which she was never before."

She said she no longer planned to take her life as "my daughter and husband are my strength".

Bennett's decision not to intervene "terrified" the couple and raised concerns for their child.

"At least [our] New Zealand-born daughter should be allowed to stay safe and . . . given permission to come to NZ whenever she wants or whenever [her] guardians feel unsafe.

​"I have heard NZ cares about humans' health and welfare, but I have seen a different view."

 - Stuff

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