New Zealanders detained in Australia plead for help from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

New Zealanders stuck in Australian detention centres are pleading for help from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Newshub was able to speak to several detainees inside the centres, where reporters are usually not allowed to go.

The detainees painted a grim picture of what life is like inside.

"This is way worse than prison. At least in prison you live like a human being," Australian immigration detainee Frank Leonie says.

He has lived in Australia for 50 years, and after serving time for drug possession he was given two options - a detention centre or deportation to New Zealand.

He chose to stay in detention at Yongah Hill Detention Centre rather than come to New Zealand - a place which isn't his home.

"Our kids, our children are here. Our wives, our fathers, our mothers - we've got people buried in this country… The system takes this away from you, they might as well just shoot you," Leonie says.

A criminal lawyer in Australia says immigration cases are difficult.

"As a person who's been working as a criminal lawyer for almost 15 years I'd rather do a murder case than deal with a visa cancellation, because I find the visa cancellations are just heartbreaking," Emma Aldersea from Laneway Legal says.

People like Leonie are known as the 501s - named after a 2014 law change in Australia that made it much easier to deport criminals.

Of the 1450 people in Australia's detention centres at the start of the year, 624 were classed as 501 deportees. And of those 501s, 161 were New Zealanders.

A group of NGOs and government representatives met in Auckland on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Most of the people deported are men of Māori or Pacific descent.

"Here in New Zealand, the 501 deportees raise profound issues of race discrimination," Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says.

Newshub spoke to several 501 deportees who say they were essentially dumped in New Zealand with no friends or family connections, and were given just five nights' accommodation and $250 on arrival.

Some return to crime to survive, and police in New Zealand have linked the recent rise in gang violence to the arrival of 501 deportees from Australia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to raise the issue with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney on Friday.