New Zealand government apologizes for dawn raids targeting Pacific communities in the 1970s

A Samoan traditional cloth was used when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologized for the dawn raids targeting Pacific communities in the 1970s. Screenshot from a Radio Samoa YouTube video.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered a “formal and unreserved apology” to the country's Pacific communities for dawn raids conducted by the police and immigration authorities in the 1970s.

The raids lasted from March 1974 until 1976. During that time New Zealand conducted hundred of raids between 11 pm to 3 am to arrest and deport individuals who were “overstaying” in the country. Authorities were accused of discriminating against Pacific communities.

New Zealand encouraged Pacific nations to send workers after World War II which helped expand the country’s manufacturing sector. But during the recession of the early 1970s, there was an unemployment spike which was unfairly blamed on the influx of migrants from Pacific nations. This was followed by random inspections and interrogations targeting migrants from Pacific communities and their families.

During her apology, Arden described how community members “were hauled to the police station to appear in court the next day barefoot, in pajamas, or in clothes loaned to them in the holding cells; others were wrongfully detained.”

Ardern made her apology during a town hall meeting in Auckland on August 1:

I stand before you as a symbol of the Crown that wronged you nearly 50 years ago.

Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand 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 events of the dawn raids.

The Government expresses its sorrow, remorse and regret that the dawn raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, who is of Tongan descent, was present during the ceremony:

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, who was born in Samoa, linked the dawn raids with racism:

The harm that was caused on a proud people was wrong.

We now know that this was racism of the worst kind.

Huge numbers of overstayers from Europe and America were basically left untouched.

It was wrong then, it is wrong today, it will always be wrong – racism, discrimination, prejudice – whatever form it takes is wrong.

Tonga Princess Mele Siu'ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili accepted Ardern’s apology:

I am very grateful for your Government for making the right decision to apologise to right the extreme, inhumane, racist and unjust treatment specifically against my community in the dawn raids era.

Let me assure you that we have accepted the fact that some of our people at the time were on the wrong side of the law – yes.

This should not have warranted the unleashing of police dogs on our people, the raids of our houses in the early hours of the morning and many other extreme measures put in place at the time.

Reactions on Twitter acknowledged the historic importance of the apology:

There were netizens whose relatives were among those left traumatized by the raids:

Some appreciated that a Samoan ritual of apology was used at the town hall meeting:

Journalist Tim Murphy recapped an emotional moment during the program:

But the enduring memory of this historic event, beyond the sight of the ritual ifoga covering of Ardern and the tears – from Tongan Princess to commoner pictured high in the town hall on the livestream – beyond the singing and moments of laughter, will be a few minutes of profound audio played at the beginning.

In a silent town hall, a series of loud knocks on doors – knocks, bangs, thuds, dogs barking, faint sirens, people distressed, babies crying.

These were the sounds of injustice.

Ardern announced several programs including over $3.1 million in scholarships and fellowships for Pacific youth, as well as additional resources to educate younger generations about the hurtful legacy of the dawn raids.

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