뉴질랜드’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has issued a formal apology for historic racist policing of Pacific people and offered scholarships to Pacific students.
Hundreds of people packed Auckland town hall on Sunday to hear the apology for the “dawn raids” of the 1970s during which authorities hunted for visa overstayers.
The practice took place under both of New Zealand’s major political parties, beginning with Labour prime minister Norman Kirk and continuing under the National’s Robert Muldoon.
Studies have since shown Pacific peoples were no more likely to overstay their visas than migrants from the US and UK, but were much more likely to be prosecuted.
The state-backed discrimination and subsequent deportations separated families and devastated communities.
“It was so painful,” said Aupito William Sio, the Pacific peoples minister, who lived through the raids.
“Some nights it was 3, 4am … there was a banging noise at the front door and in [the police would] come.
“I remember walking down our street and some of the other older kids, they’d taunt us. They’d say ‘go home, coconut’. That was the atmosphere.
“Even today my father can’t talk about it … so many have felt so much shame.”
The apology featured many traditional elements of the Pacific and Aotearoa.
After a powhiri – with speeches, song and the Māori “hongi” greeting between community and government leaders – Ardern addressed the full house in four languages: te reo Māori, Tongan, Samoan and English.
“I stand before you as a representative of those who did you harm,” she said in Samoan.
“While no amount of rain can remove the bitter salt from the ocean waters, I ask you to let our spiritual connectedness soften your pain, and allow forgiveness to flow on this day.”
As many in the crowd wept, Ardern said she felt the flow-on effects from the dawn raids in the present day.
“It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly affected. It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities, and it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities.
"오늘, I stand on behalf of the 뉴질랜드 government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the dawn raids.”
Ardern said she wanted to “pave a new dawn” for Pacific communities, and announced $NZ3.1m in scholarships to Pacific students in New Zealand and the region.
The government will also incorporate the dawn raids into the history curriculum, and support Pacific artists and historians to create an official record of the mistreatment.
Sunday’s formal apology follows two others by former prime minister Helen Clark.
The first was to Chinese immigrants who for many years were asked to pay a specific tax, and the second was to Samoa for mistreatment during New Zealand’s colonial administration.