UNHCR warmly welcomes New Zealand citizenship for 'Tampa Boys'

Briefing Notes, 8 April 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 April 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR warmly welcomes the granting of New Zealand citizenship today to 76 refugees who were among those rescued at sea by Norwegian freighter, MV Tampa, off the coast of Australia in August 2001. The group includes 37 unaccompanied teenagers (then aged between 14 and 18) who became affectionately dubbed 'The Tampa Boys' by New Zealand officials who cared for them when they were subsequently accepted as refugees by New Zealand.

Since arriving in New Zealand in 2001, most of The Tampa Boys have since been reunited with their families under New Zealand's annual refugee quota programme of 750 people.

Overall, New Zealand has accepted 208 Afghan refugees from the Tampa, including 131 people straight from the Tampa and another 77 who underwent refugee status determination on Nauru by UNHCR, after they were taken there by the Australian navy in September 2001.

Applicants for citizenship in New Zealand must be permanent residents for at least three years, and meet good character and English language requirements, among other things. Today's group of 76 are the first of the former Tampa refugees to meet the citizenship requirements.

UNHCR Regional Representative Neill Wright congratulated the Tampa refugees for achieving citizenship, saying the occasion marks the start of their future lives as productive citizens of New Zealand. He also thanked the New Zealand Government for allowing the refugees to make New Zealand their new home, for reuniting them with their families and for the excellent services they provided to help the refugees adjust to their new country.

Speaking at the citizenship ceremony in Manukau City, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark praised the way the Tampa teenagers had adjusted to life in their new land. She said she had followed the progress of the Tampa Boys over the past three and half years, and noted how they embraced the New Zealand way of life. She said they were already making a positive contribution to New Zealand life, and that the lives of New Zealanders had been enriched by having them here.

There are 54 people remaining on Nauru, including: 29 Afghans; 20 Iraqis; 2 Bangladeshis; 2 Iranians; and 1 Pakistani. All of these people have been through Refugee Status Determination processes at least twice and found not to be refugees. UNHCR has asked that the Iraqis on Nauru and in mainland detention centres be given a form of complementary protection by the Australian Government, until the security situation improves in their homelands and they can return in safety and dignity. UNHCR has also requested states grant complementary protection to people from some parts of Afghanistan.

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