Asylum seekers say New Zealand's immigration process leaves them scarred

Asylum seekers say New Zealand's immigration process is set up to send them back to where they came from.

They say they're detained in prisons for longer than necessary - an experience which leaves them further scarred.

"They want you to give up. I've seen people going back," one asylum seeker, who wants to remain anonymous, told Newshub.

At the border he was separated from his family and taken to the Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

"The lawyer told me that there's some identity issues. They need to verify your identity. And from there it was 28 days," he says.

He ended up spending 17 months in prison.

Immigration says some asylum seekers are held in custody for security or when their identity is in question.

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But the Asylum Seekers Support Trust believe it's used to discourage applicants.

"It's longer than a claim process. It seems to be used as a deterrent for asylum seekers," says general manager Tim Maurice.

Maurice says some asylum seekers use fake documents to flee their home countries.

"That's legitimate and that's protected in the UN convention, that you shouldn't be discriminated against for the way you seek asylum because it's the only way you can find somewhere safe to live."

Five years ago asylum seekers were spending up to a year and a half in jail. Now it's dropped to around three months for most, although some are still spending years behind bars.

"Cases don't have a set timeframe in New Zealand. We've heard of people being accepted within two months. We've heard of people waiting a year for their first interview," Maurice says.

And when in jail asylum seekers are detained alongside the general prison population.

"People who've been in prison before, they act staunch, they know how to protect themselves. Whereas asylum seekers have no idea," Maurice says.

Another says he was taken to Mt Eden prison and strip-searched soon after claiming asylum.

"I lose dignity from that day - first day," he told Newshub.

Corrections says asylum seekers can't be treated differently to accused prisoners.

"I was forced to fight in the fight club in prison. I'm not a violent person but I ended up fighting to defend myself," the anonymous asylum seeker told Newshub.

Both men say their time in prison has left them scarred both physically and mentally.

"I am not a normal person anymore. I've been damaged. I am a dead man now."

Damaged by the country where he thought he would find sanctuary.

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