New Zealand has filed its first human-trafficking or people-smuggling charge against two men arrest in Motueka. According to the New Zealand Herald, the two suspects were ordered on bail in Nelson District Court until Sept 4.
Under New Zealand's Crimes Act 1961, it is illegal to arrange by deception the entry of foreigners in the country. The two men were charged for smuggling 18 Indian nationals in New Zealand. Reports said human-trafficking is a criminal act with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine or both.
Immigration New Zealand has confirmed that it was the first time people-smuggling has been charged in the country. One of the suspects was charged under the Immigration Act 1987 for making false refugee claims. The same charge was filed against a third person arrested in Auckland on Aug 28. The men had reportedly filed refugee claims for 18 Indian nationals. The act is punishable under New Zealand law with a maximum penalty of seven years and a $100,000 fine.
The Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager for compliance and border operations, Peter Devoy, said the charge laid against the suspects was significant since it is the first prosecution in the country. He said he hopes the apprehension of the people smugglers will send a message to others planning to enter New Zealand illegally.
New Zealand has been previously accused of rampant human-trafficking, according to a U.S. State Department report. Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse had dismissed the findings of the report since it did not contain evidence of foreigners forced into labour and sex trafficking in New Zealand. The U.S. Trafficking in Persons 2014 Report was released on June 23. It claimed that the country did not prosecute human-trafficking cases in the last eight years.
The U.S. State Department recommended that a stronger stance on human-trafficking should be taken by expanding New Zealand laws. However, Woodhouse said the country already has strict laws in place, including harsh penalties for people who will be found guilty.
Aside from the reportedly increasing number of people-smuggling incidents in New Zealand, the report said desperate asylum seekers have targeted the country for a better life than what they had back home. Asylum seekers are a combination of Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans and Bangladeshis.