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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
NZ tackles growing racism
By Angie Knox
BBC, New Zealand

Clean, green - and racist? New Zealand's image is taking a beating with new research showing that 70% of its citizens think that Asians face significant discrimination.

The research, by the Human Rights Commission, has prompted an advertising campaign to encourage Kiwis to be kinder to immigrants.

More than 200,000 Asian migrants have arrived in New Zealand in the past 20 years, and it is officially estimated that Asians will make up 13% of New Zealand's population by 2021.

New Zealand First poster
Immigration is a contentious issue in New Zealand
Auckland is New Zealand's largest and most multicultural city.

Yet at the top of Queen Street, which runs through Auckland's central business district, a billboard addresses the ever-controversial issue of immigration.

"Immigration's up, treaty costs up, crime's up... Had enough?", the billboard reads, directing onlookers to the website of New Zealand First, one of the country's smallest opposition parties.

Across town at a migrant centre, groups of students take part in employment training sessions. Overwhelmingly, the faces there are Asian.

That might be because most Asian migrants choose to settle in Auckland - the city is home to an estimated two-thirds of all Asians in New Zealand.

But it is also harder for Asians to get a job - and not necessarily because they do not have the qualifications.


Asoka Basnayake, a settlement coordinator for new migrants, says that finding a job is a huge challenge for migrants.

"That's mainly because New Zealand employers are looking for New Zealand experience," she said.

"Although people's qualifications and experience and skills have been assessed at the time they migrate to New Zealand, when they come here they find their skills, qualifications and experience are not worth anything."

Migrants to New Zealand
8,700 from China
8,400 from India
6,600 from the UK
4,300 from South Africa
Source: NZ Migration Information (year ending June 2002)

Ms Basnayake should know. When she came to New Zealand eight years ago, she applied for 250 jobs without success, despite having extensive work experience in Europe, Asia and Canada.

New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres, said that discrimination was definitely a problem.

"There has been a disturbing increase in recent times in what I'd call conversational discrimination, and particularly in relation to Asian immigrants," he said.

Media campaign

New Zealand's Human Rights Commission is sponsoring an advertising campaign to nip this trend in the bud.

The NZ$1.5m (US$870,000 ) series of TV, radio, billboard and newspaper advertisements aims to challenge racial stereotypes - and is being paid for by a group of media and advertising companies led by McCann Ericks.

"I'd been living in Asia for just under six years, and whenever people asked me how migrant-friendly New Zealand was as a nation, I said we were very, very migrant friendly," said the company's managing director John Roberts.

McCann Erickson's managing director John Roberts
John Roberts heard several racist comments during focus groups
"When I arrived back last year and started sifting through some independent research groups that we run, some really quite distasteful racist comments were coming up," he said.

One of the comments was: "You can guarantee if there's an accident, an Asian will be involved."

Another said: "The government should shut the doors. Who wants all these people ruining our good life?"

Mr Roberts believes comments like these are a reaction to how New Zealand has changed - and is still changing.

"Auckland is a great example," he said. "You walk down Queen Street now and to be honest you could be in Hong Kong or Singapore. The look of the place has changed, and I think that's scared people."

Joris de Bres said that the recent rise in the Asian population was a mirror of what happened 30 years ago when large numbers of Pacific Islanders arrived in New Zealand to ease labour shortages.

"In the 1970s there was a similar opposition to Pacific migration," he said.

"In the first years of the 21st century, that opposition has moved - among a percentage of the population - to Asian migration. And at the same time people are saying they are perfectly happy with the numbers of Pacific Islanders here."

But Joris de Bres said he was confident New Zealand would not follow the lead of Australia, where Pauline Hanson's anti-immigration One Nation Party garnered 10% of the popular vote in the mid-1990s.

"There was a lot of concern about discrimination against Asian immigrants when we surveyed people last year," he said. "So I think probably New Zealand will come through this."

Fears for New Zealand's Asian gamblers
29 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: New Zealand
08 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

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