Immigration: Those Closing the Door Behind Themselves


Donald Trump is planning to build a wall around the USA. His claims that the majority of people crossing the border from Mexico are murderers and rapists, and his plans to stop all Muslims from entering the country until he ‘works out what’s going on’, have seen his poll numbers steadily rise. Proud of making headline-grabbing comments on controversial issues, his latest foray into patriotic defence of the nation has been his questioning of Ted Cruz’s eligibility for the position of Commander-in-Chief. Constitutionally, eligibility is described as a “natural-born citizen” which has been defined as anyone born to a US citizen. In Cruz’s case, he was born in Canada to a US American mother but Trump seems willing to question the citizenship of anyone not born on US soil. In January’s GOP debate in South Carolina, Cruz, in defending himself against the charges of ineligibility, raised Trump’s own heritage and his Scottish-born mother. Trump revealed his true feeling on the matter when he countered with, “but I was born here, big difference.” Of course this is not Trump’s first incidence of questioning a candidate’s right to the Presidency, with his prominent position in ‘the birther’ movement which demanded Obama make his birth certificate public in order to prove his citizenship. Obama was shown to fulfil Trump’s high standards of being “born here”, although conspiracy theories surrounding forged certificates still abound.

The concept of citizenship being linked solely to the geographical location of a person’s birth is a difficult one. In today’s globalised world with it’s long history of migration, many people can trace a heritage containing forebears of various origins and races. A person may have grandparents from four different nations, be born in a fifth and then choose to live their life in a sixth. How does one define citizenship in such cases? For some, rather than attempting to untangle such webs or revelling in the diversity that such instances bring to cultures, it is easier for them to hold onto the ‘born here’ definition of citizenship. A few years ago in New Zealand, t-shirts showing the country’s map and boldly emblazoned with “Born Here” had a summer of popularity, and although the t-shirts have now faded and been worn out, the attitude they exhibited is still very much apparent. In a recent discussion with a couple of middle-aged, white New Zealanders, they visibly bristled when I classed myself as a ‘Kiwi’. As someone who has lived in the country for 11 years and chosen citizenship of a place I love, in their eyes I could never be a ‘real’ New Zealander. This was by no means the first time I had encountered such an attitude from within the same demographic, themselves descended from migrants to the country sometime within the last 200 years. It points towards a desire to close the doors of immigration after themselves, just as Trump, who so highly values his own status of being born in the USA, is ready to deny citizenship to all US-born children of illegal immigrants.

Such negative attitudes towards immigration held by some in New Zealand was further evidenced last week when I broke my own rule and made the terrible mistake of reading the comments section on an internet news report. The story concerned the arrival to New Zealand of the first 80 Syrian refugees of the 750 the country has pledged to receive.  Against the background of a 5-year conflict which has claimed 250 000 lives and made 11 million people homeless, there were examples of typical myopic parochialism with comments such as, “why help others if we can’t help ourselves first?”. Then came the examples of outright discrimination:
Most of those Syrian’s are terrorist. get refugees from other countries, but not syria (sic)”,
take the Christian refugees. They are genuine refugees and get killed by the Muslim Syrian refugees“,
Escort them back home. Let them fight for their country” and
We don’t need Muslims in New Zealand“.
Perhaps the comment which showed the greatest lack of empathy for the refugees’ suffering and eligibility for a life in New Zealand was one bemoaning the trifling inconveniences of their own migration to New Zealand. Again the ‘I’m here, now let’s not make it easy for anyone else’ attitude.
Absolutely agree [we should not accept Syrian refugees].. When I applied visa for my holidays, they asked tons of questions n juz issued 1 month special visa.. And also when I made enquiry about my relocation n migration there, many many forms have to b filled up.. 😒😖. I love NZ n wish to spend rest of my life here .. But they are funny.. They have so many bars to the person who love their country n wish to contribute knowledge..(sic)”

The ultimate hypocrisy of the ‘birthers’ movement and ‘born here’ proponents can be seen in their attitude to the indigenous peoples of their countries. The same European-descended New Zealanders who questioned my right to citizenship in a proud display of their own ‘born here’ status were unwilling to extend bonds of national fraternity to Maori, who can date their presence in the country back more than 500 years before the Europeans. They openly espoused a desire for Maori to “get over the past” and “stop relying on handouts” while expressing concern that new Maori residents in the area were “disrupting the neighbourhood”. Such disregard for the indigenous people of the country, while viewing themselves as more Kiwi than those who come after them is a clear example of white nationalism. In the US, Trump is currently being endorsed by some in the white supremacist movement, who see his hard stance on immigration as a possible way to avoid the white population becoming a minority. Trump also has a terrible record when it comes to Native American issues spanning the last 25 years. Recently he has supported the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being challenged by Native groups fearing its potential damage to their sacred sites and water supplies. He has also pledged, if he becomes President, to reverse Obama’s renaming of Mount McKinley in Alaska to Denali, calling it, “a great insult to Ohio” (President McKinley’s home state). When asked his opinion on the rebranding of Washington’s NFL team to remove the logo and the Redskins name, Trump stated, “Honestly, I don’t think they should change the name, unless the owner wanted to…. I know Indians that are extremely proud of that name.

Countries such as the US and New Zealand were built on the foundations of colonial land grabs, subjugation and, in some cases, slaughter of the lands’ earliest residents. Now, the majority of the population of these nations are immigrants or descended from immigrants, many of whom were escaping atrocities elsewhere in the world, others who made the move in search of a better way of life or economic gain. It would seem that some of those are content with the idea that the “huddled masses” are no longer wanted and now is the time to draw in the welcome mat and securely bar the doors to prevent any new interlopers from sharing in the benefits they themselves have enjoyed.

25th January 2016

Hot Water Beach: A Wonderfully Strange Collaboration

Image by Sam Kynman-Cole

Image by Sam Kynman-Cole

Hot Water Beach, on the stunningly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, is an odd little place. The small settlement, which only has around 100 permanent residents, lies clustered around a golden beach and at first glance seems just like many other New Zealand coastal towns; sleepy in the winter with an influx of visitors and summer residents during the holiday periods. However, in this little township, regardless of the time of year, a wave of incomers, dressed in beachwear and brandishing shovels, comes crashing onto its shores every twelve hours.

The reason for this lies in the volcanic and seismic nature of New Zealand due to its position on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Below the glistening sand at Hot Water Beach, an underground river of hot water flows from deep inside the earth, filtering through fissures and surfacing where the beach meets the Pacific Ocean. For two hours either side of each low tide, just enough of the beach above this geothermal well is exposed to make it possible to dig into the sand and allow water, which can be as hot as 64°C, to bubble through to the surface and form a natural spa pool.

This twice-daily event attracts crowds all year round, numbering well into the hundreds during holiday periods and summer weekends, and totalling over 100 000 each year. It is a truly international affair with countless nations represented amongst the diggers, bathers and numerous curious onlookers. People with no prior connection to each other, and often with no common language, find themselves thrown together in the task of shoring up sandy pools against the sea and then sharing the spoils in a communal hot tub of their own making. The whole process provides a fascinating insight into many aspects of human nature, with displays of co-operation, collaboration, problem-solving, consideration and sharing, as well as occasional territoriality, exclusion and self interest.

Whilst participating in some Hot Water Beach pool construction last weekend, a friend suggested to me that, as with building fires, there is something primitive about digging holes. There is a deep satisfaction in the basic securing of an area and protecting it against the elements which perhaps harks back to humankind’s earliest existence. Equally, Hot Water Beach is a reminder to us of how insignificant and puny we are in the face of the forces of nature, with our pools of warmth at the mercy of the elements, providing their comfort for merely a couple of hours before being reclaimed by the ocean. Perhaps it is because of these primordial associations or simply due to the pleasure of human interaction and collaboration, that, even considering the strangeness of sitting in a pool of muddy water with complete strangers as it is slowly destroyed by the tide, a visit to Hot Water Beach is an oddly satisfying experience.

Video by Sam Kynman-Cole, Auckland, NZ

25th August 2015

The TPPA: Not as Uninformed as Key Would Like

Last weekend saw the people of New Zealand take to the streets in protest at the secrecy surrounding the TPPA, a Pacific-rim free-trade agreement currently being negotiated by 12 nations. These demonstrations followed earlier events voicing concerns in other potential signatories including Australia, Japan, Malaysia and the US.

Following the protests, Prime Minister John Key gave an interview to breakfast television host Paul Henry  in which he dismissed the protests. He painted a picture of anyone expressing doubt around the agreement as anti-trade, anti-business looney-left greenies, or suffering from a case of ” misinformation”. Henry, never known for objective journalism, displayed particularly sycophantic toadying by leaving this portrait totally unchallenged.

Key typically employs a paternalistic, ‘we know what’s best for you so just trust us’ style of leadership. Any challenges are met with demeaning and belittling, as experienced by Man Booker Prize-winning writer Eleanor Catton when she criticised the NZ government earlier this year. Key expressed disappointment at her lack of fealty then dismissed her as, albeit a talented and intelligent writer, but lacking “political insight”.

As well as the recent TPPA public protests, Key has also ignored the concerns of professionals in the industries likely to be impacted by the trade agreement. Last May, a letter signed by over 400 NZ health professionals was sent to the Prime Minister, expressing “serious concerns” about the TPPA, particularly surrounding the impact of ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement), which could be used by corporations to challenge government regulations, such as those concerning tobacco, pharmaceuticals and fossil fuels.
The TPPA threatens the future of health in NZ, by elevating “investor rights” of transnational corporations over the right of the New Zealand people to develop, adapt or improve domestic regulatory policies according to changing health needs”.
The medical professionals requested transparency surrounding the concessions being made in the TPPA negotiations and for an independent assessment of any deal before finalisation. These requests were dismissed by the government with the argument that trade agreements have always been conducted in secrecy.

While Key obviously refuses to give credence to the concerns of ‘ordinary’ citizens, is he also willing to ignore the expertise and opinions of his fellow professionals in the fields of law, economics and politics?

Last July, at the Australian Supreme and Federal Courts Judges’ Conference in Darwin, the potential harm of ISDS was discussed. In their examination of the possible repercussions of including ISDS in free-trade agreements, the example of Philip Morris taking legal action against the Australian government’s policy of plain packaging for cigarettes was given.
The possible inclusion of an ISDS provision in the TPP has become an issue of intense debate with some critics seeing it as a Trojan horse for the enhancement of the power of international corporations at the expense of national sovereignty and interests.

The UN has also expressed concern surrounding FTAs (Free Trade Agreements):

There is a legitimate concern that both bilateral and multilateral investment treaties might aggravate the problem of extreme poverty, jeopardize fair and efficient foreign debt renegotiation, and affect the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other persons leaving in vulnerable situations… Investor-state-dispute settlement (ISDS) chapters in BITs and FTAs are also increasingly problematic given the experience of decades related arbitrations conducted before ISDS tribunals. The experience demonstrates that the regulatory function of many States and their ability to legislate in the public interest have been put at risk.”        

The UN paper recommended that;
All current negotiations of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements should be conducted transparently with consultation and participation of all relevant stakeholders including labour unions, consumer unions, environmental protection groups and health professionals. All draft treaty texts should be published so that Parliamentarians and civil society have sufficient time to review them and to weigh the pros and cons in a democratic manner… Given the breadth and scope of the agreements currently under negotiation, robust safeguards must be embedded to ensure full protection and enjoyment of human rights.

Meanwhile, in the US, economist Robert Reich, who served in the Ford, Carter and Clinton administrations, has described the TPPA as a “Trojan horse in the global race to the bottom”

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has also expressed concern at the level of secrecy for the negotiations and the bargaining power being giving to pharmaceutical companies.
The efforts to raise drug prices in the T.P.P. take us in the wrong direction. The whole world may come to pay a price in the form of worse health and unnecessary deaths.”
Within the US Democratic Party, Senator Elizabeth Warren has made a characteristically eloquent yet powerful appeal to President Obama to reconsider his stance on the deal.

Evidently New Zealanders are not alone in their doubts surrounding the TPPA and their calls for more transparency.  In spite of the secrecy being maintained by the governments involved, people are not protesting blindly, but are supported by professionals and experts within the highest levels of law, politics and economics. Citing “misinformation” is a convenient way for John Key to offhandedly dismiss any dissent but the citizens are not completely uninformed and misinformed and it is insulting of the Prime Minister to suggest so.

Posted 19th August 2015

Maui’s Dolphins: Shamefully Endangered


The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee has held its annual meeting in San Diego this week. While much of the accompanying media has been concerned with Japan’s latest attempts to justify whaling as scientific research, some attention has also been given internationally to New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins. Maui’s dolphins, only found in NZ waters, are a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin and are the smallest in the world. The latest research by NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) International Nature Conservation Foundation and Otago University, states that the current number of Maui’s dolphins is between 43 and 47, of which only 10-12 are adult females. As such, it is estimated that, unless immediate action is taken, the species will become extinct within the next 15 years.

A year ago, at the 2014 IWC meeting, the New Zealand government were urged to take increased action towards protecting the Maui’s dolphins but restrictions on fishing practices still only cover a small proportion of the dolphins’ territory: 20% of the habitat has gillnet restrictions and only 5% has trawling restrictions. Also, last June, just one week after the IWC’s warning, the government granted licenses for offshore oil and gas exploration in an area which included 3000sqkm of the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary.

This year at the IWC, the President of NABU International Nature Conservation Foundation Thomas Tennhardt, stated: “New Zealand has so far shirked its responsibility to protect the last Maui’s dolphins. For three years running, IWC scientists have urged the New Zealand government to ban the use of gillnets and trawling across their entire habitat. But New Zealand has stubbornly ignored the scientists and is selling out this rare species for short sighted economic reasons.” NABU International’s Head of Endangered species Conservation, Dr Barbara Maas added: “New Zealand has to stop placing the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation and finally protect the dolphins’ habitat from harmful fishing nets, seismic airgun blasts and oil and gas extraction. Unless this happens, Maui’s dolphin extinction is a matter of when, not if. But instead of taking action, the New Zealand government is celebrating the extension of gillnet restrictions by three percent back in 2012/13 as a conservation victory, although this merely delays the dolphins’ demise by a handful of years. The futile five-year research programme tabled by New Zealand at this year’s IWC Scientific Committee meeting is a further attempt to muddy the waters and play for time, which Maui’s dolphins can’t afford.

Predictably, Seafood New Zealand’s chairman, George Clement, has called the predicted demise of the species an “exaggeration“, while the New Zealand government have declined to respond to this scathing indictment or comment on the matter until the IWC’s findings and recommendations are published later this month. The government could take affirmative action now and do something to repair New Zealand’s increasingly tarnished reputation as a ‘green’ nation. Instead, John Key and the National party’s continued inaction speaks volumes of their lack of genuine concern over conservation and environmental issues, only willing to curb industry when shamed into doing so on the international stage, and even then doing only as much as required to remove themselves from the spotlight.

For more information on Maui’s dolphins and to find out what can be done to pressure the New Zealand government into effective action:

4th June 2015