Samoan community leader, Fuimaono Ioana is calling on To’oolesavili John Key’s government to legalise Samoan overstayers. The call is echoed by Samoan church leaders in Christchurch last week.
She told the Samoa Observer it’s the least New Zealand should do to honour fifty years of the Treaty of Friendship for Samoans in New Zealand.
“John Key went to Samoa and honoured the Treaty there, but that’s only half the commitment,” Fuimaono said.
“The Treaty covers all Samoans and as of right now, nothing has been done for Samoans living in New Zealand. We have not been considered.”
There are six articles in the Treaty of Friendship. Article III states: “Each Government shall ensure that citizens of the other living within its territory are, in accordance with the normal practice between friendly states, given equitable treatment and full legal protection and access to the Courts.”
And Article IV states: “The two Governments shall continue to work together to promote the welfare of the people of [Western] Samoa. In particular the Government of New Zealand will consider sympathetically requests from the Government of [Western] Samoan for technical, administrative and other assistance.
Fuimaono says legalizing the status of Samoan overstayers would go a long way to honour New Zealand’s commitment not only stipulated by the Articles but in the spirit for which the Treaty was originally signed.
It is why, she explains, her ‘legalise overstayer’ call is not one for amnesty. “No, we’re not asking for amnesty nor are we asking for residence. What we’re asking for is a12-month period for people to come forward, have their eligibility reassessed, grant them a three-year working visa, and the opportunity to work through the residence process just like everybody else.
“That is simple, fair, and in line with the spirit of the Treaty. That is leadership.” She says there would be many upsides if such a move by the John Key government is made. “I know many of our people will choose to go back home. They would have gone back except for the fear that if they do, and members of their family die here, they wouldn’t be allowed back for the funeral or other big family events.”
Another will be an increased positive social outlook. “You see, once people are legalised it will be easier for them to find employment. When that happens there will be less stresses in society. We would see that through less incidence of family violence for example as former overstayers finding jobs will then be able to contribute and share family expenses. “Right now there are Samoans with permanent residence feeding ten or fifteen extra mouths, many are doing it living on the benefit. Legalisation would certainly improve those situations in many many ways.”
She adds the children of overstayer parents will thrive under a secured environment and enjoy the benefits of access to education and healthcare which will be good for New Zealand.
“There will be more young sporting stars for New Zealand coming through as these children can now stay in one place, register, and represent New Zealand,” says Fuimaono.
“To me such a move would epitomize the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship similar to Samoa granting amnesty to prisoners at its 50th independence celebrations.” But even though Fuimaono will again be taking the issue to political leaders, early indications are not favourable. When Prime Minister John Key visited Samoa to commemorate fifty years of the Treaty of Friendship, he would not comment about recent changes to New Zealand’s Immigration policy or subsequent queries on overstayers.
However, there was a meeting between Samoan politicians and New Zealand politicians who went to Samoa with Mr Key for the occasion. One of them, Su’a William Sio, told the Sunday Observer: “This topic [immigration quota] was brought up in the meeting with Samoan MPs during the Treaty of Friendship meeting.
“They were seeking a better way for Samoans traveling out and returning to Samoa. Because the most important part in satisfying quota conditions is a secured job offer. So we need to find a way that will make it easier for those whose names are drawn in the quota to get jobs.”
The issue of overstayers was also discussed. The biggest concern was how to reduce negative impacts on the children of overstayer parents. Last week, Labour’s Immigration spokesperson Ms Darien Fenton re-confirmed the concern to the Sunday Observer and what Labour will do about the situation.
“Labour is also concerned that there are young Pacific people who are, through no fault of their own, missing out on education, medical and hospital care as a result of their parents irregular status.
“Labour will investigate the reasons why there are a continuing number of Pacific people with irregular immigration status in order to curtail the increase in immigration scams, and to encourage Pacific people living illegally in New Zealand to regularise their status.” But Fuimaono wants more. She’s fed-up with the number of investigations that over the past has not yielded any solution.
“I have been saying this for the past thirty years, I’ve visited every government that’s come into power during that time, I’ve been to see everybody and no one wanted to discuss the issue of overstayer – its like a bad smell,” says Fuimaono. “But I’ve kept on pushing this issue because I know how it feels.
I was an overstayer myself and have gone to jail for it. But I’ve always said the greatest concern we need to address is the children. They are innocent yet they are out-casted and New Zealand has become a horrible place for them to grow up.
“Right now we have a solution, something can done about it right now.” She re-issued her challenge to politicians especially the Samoan members. “I challenge our parliament and more so our Samoan MPs, Su’a, Peseta, Le’au Asenati to stop thinking about their party policy on this issue. They should look at the overstayer issue with common sense and come up with a workable solution,” she says. “And the best solution is to legalise them by getting the New Zealand government to honour the Treaty of Friendship for us Samoans living in New Zealand.”
The Mana Party is fully supportive of Fuimaono’s call. Leader, Mr Hone Harawira has always maintained Pacific people are not overstayers. “They are our Pacific brothers and sisters.
A child of the Pacific cannot be an overstayer in the Pacific,” he said. “At some point in the future, this country has to recognize that it’s a Pacific nation. This is not England or South Africa, we let Australians come and go without even blinking.”
While Mana Party’s Vice President, Mr John Minto added: “New Zealand has a long history of treating Pacific island people with disrespect. Its discrimination, its racist and I think the time has come for us to put a line under all of that and move ahead.”
He said what needs to happen now “is to have a managed transition very quickly to allow Pacific people to come and go from New Zealand freely. It will save the country a whole lot of money, we wouldn’t have this rubbish that happens with immigration and we’ll be acknowledging the huge contribution Pacific islanders have made to this country.”