Asylum seekers thrown in New Zealand prisons suffered so badly they 'wanted to end their lives' - Amnesty International report

Warning: This article discusses suicidal ideation and rape.

Three asylum seekers placed in prison upon arrival in New Zealand considered ending their lives because their treatment was so bad, a new report has revealed.

The trio were among 86 asylum seekers imprisoned by Immigration NZ between 2015 and 2020 - a practice condemned by Amnesty International as potentially being in breach of international human rights standards.

The Amnesty International report - entitled Take Me to a Safe Place - was released on Tuesday, raising alarm bells over how some would-be refugees are treated when they reach New Zealand's shores.

While only a small proportion are sent to prison - usually on the grounds of being held for future deportation, establishing their identity, or because they're a potential 'threat to security' - those that are have described how the experience has had negative impacts on their wellbeing.

"All those seeking asylum we spoke to talked about... the shock that Aotearoa New Zealand would detain them when they had come here to seek safety and a better life," said Meg de Ronde, the executive director of Amnesty International NZ.

"We, as investigators, were shocked and appalled to discover the extent of the abuse and human rights violations. Several spoke of suicidal ideation. Others spoke of physical abuse...

"What they sought here was solace. What they were put into is a system that pushed them around and harmed them more. People seeking asylum should be welcomed, not incarcerated.”

Alongside the three who considered suicide, the report also documents a case in which a man who had been tortured in his home country was allegedly raped while double-bunked in prison.

This man was one of several past survivors of torture, mistreatment or sexual or gender-based violence who were imprisoned and later recognised as refugees.

Another man was forced into a fight club at Mt Eden Corrections Facility, while another spent more than three years in prison while waiting on the result of his asylum claim. Three others were sent to prison despite a community group or family offering to host them.

"All those we interviewed reported being double bunked at some point with remand prisoners in prison and it was standard practice to be strip searched. Language barriers for some meant they suffered in silence and couldn't even ask for help," the report says.

"Their accounts and experiences are included throughout this report and tell the human side of the complex web of systems, policies, laws and processes that they are subjected to.

"Their brave stories echo why international human rights bodies have repeatedly noted the inappropriateness and harms of the use of police stations and prisons to detain asylum seekers and other immigration detainees and that it should not take place."

Advocates want asylum seekers to stay at the Māngere Refugee Centre instead of people locked up, and only for a maximum of 28 days - even if it takes officials longer to sort out their paperwork.

But Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says he has no plans to change how asylum seeker cases are handled, and the Government complies with human rights conventions.