EA major exercise in Auckland today has shown New Zealand’s preparedness for dealing with a mass arrival of asylum seekers by boat, according to Immigration Minister Nathan Guy and Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.
Exercise Barrier has seen around 100 role players acting as potentially illegal immigrants being processed through health, customs and immigration checks following their simulated arrival by boat.
“This is a major exercise to make sure New Zealand is fully prepared to respond to a mass arrival by sea of potentially illegal immigrants. We know that we have been a target in the past for people smugglers and we need to do all we can to ensure that we are prepared for any future attempts,” says Mr Guy.
“A freighter with 500 asylum seekers from Asia made it all the way to Canada two years ago, so New Zealand is certainly within reach.”
Mr Williamson says that a full evaluation will take place at the end of Exercise Barrier to ensure that any lessons to be learned are implemented.
“I was very impressed with what I saw today and everything went very smoothly,” Mr Williamson says. “But we know that we can’t afford to be complacent about the risks of a mass arrival happening here and everything needs to be done to ensure that we’re as prepared as possible.”
The New Zealand Customs Service and Immigration New Zealand are the lead agencies for the exercise, given their responsibilities for New Zealand’s border security and immigration laws.
Exercise Barrier started at the beginning of May and is taking place over eight weeks, running until the end of this month. It includes several planning exercises as well as the simulated mass arrival.
“Observers from Canada and Australia have been shadowing Customs officers during the exercise. The Officers will benefit greatly from the guidance of those who have first-hand experience of maritime mass arrivals and have been involved in the development of national response frameworks, says Mr Williamson.
“It is important that Customs, Immigration and other agencies work together to ensure the arrival of asylum seekers by boat is managed as quickly and efficiently as possible,” says Mr Williamson.
Legislative measures are also being introduced to deter a mass arrival of potentially illegal migrants into New Zealand.
“An amendment to the Immigration Act has been introduced into Parliament earlier this year contains strong measures to deter people smuggling, making New Zealand a less desirable target,” says Mr Guy.
“The amendments will enable a mass arrival to be detained under a group warrant, rather than under individual warrants as currently happens with asylum seekers.
“All of this sends a strong message that New Zealand is well prepared and will not tolerate illegal people smuggling operations,” says Mr Guy.