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New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has apologised on behalf of the nation nearly 50 years after the racist “Dawn Raids” against Pacific communities in the 1970s that resulted in deportations and prosecutions.
During these raids in the 1974 -1976 period, when New Zealand’s economy was in a downturn, the government clamped down on immigrant workers from the Pacific islands who overstayed their work visas.
Ms Ardern, while addressing a tearful crowd of hundreds of people, said the government was offering a formal and unreserved apology. She said members of Pacific communities continue to “suffer and carry the scars” of the raids in which they were disproportionately targeted and racially profiled.
During those raids, people who didn’t look like white New Zealanders were told they should carry identification to prove they weren’t overstayers. In some cases, people were randomly stopped in the street, at schools or in churches. Even though many overstayers at the time were British, American or South African, it was largely Pacific Islanders who were targeted for deportation.
The raids were often carried out early in the morning, becoming known as the Dawn Raids as a result.
“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,” she said.
“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,” said the prime minister while announcing that the government will provide NZ$2.1m (£1.1m) in academic and vocational scholarships for Pacific communities.
She also announced NZ$1m (£500,000) in leadership scholarships for young people from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Tuvalu, among others.
As part of Ifoga, a traditional Samoan ceremony in which people ask for forgiveness or receive forgiveness, Ms Ardern sat motionless while members of the Pacific community pulled a large white mat over her head, completely covering her. Moments later they removed it and embraced her.
Tongan Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili said the impact of the Dawn Raids had haunted her community for generations.
“We are grateful to your government for making the right decision to apologise,” she said to Ms Ardern but added that the government could do a better job of responding to current immigration needs, a comment which drew sustained applause.
The decision by New Zealand’s prime minister to seek an apology received praise from social media users from across the world.
Susie Bailey, a teacher from London, wrote: “My admiration and respect for her grows daily and I pray that we find it in our hearts to find, and elect, such a leader.”
While Melanie D, a teacher based in New Zealand, tweeted: “It’s the right thing to do. It’s long past time for doing it.”
Additional reporting by agencies