Government could detain boat of Indian migrants if they arrive

The New Zealand Government is warning the boatload of Indian migrants reportedly heading to New Zealand they could be detained for up to six months if they arrive.

The fishing boat, carrying over 100 migrants, left Munambam harbour in Kerala on January 12. Indian police say they've arrested a man who told them the boat was heading to New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says they have processes in place to handle any arrival - including detention.

"Although there has never been a mass arrival in this country there's no doubt that New Zealand is a target for people smugglers and a mass arrival at some stage is a very real possibility that we need to be fully prepared for," says INZ assistant general manager Stephen Vaughan.

"Under the Immigration Act 2009, those who arrive as part of a mass arrival are able to be detained for up to six months and allows this detention period to be extended for up to 28 days at a time, if a District Court Judge determines that is necessary."

A map of the migrants' journey.
A map of the migrants' journey. Photo credit: Newshub

In 2013, the Immigration Amendment Bill was passed to help deter people smugglers and manage a mass arrival if one occurs.

At the time, then Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said a vessel carrying asylum seekers could "quickly overwhelm New Zealand's immigration and court systems".

"It could also have significant security implications - overseas experience shows it is often difficult to establish the identity of those arriving on such vessels," he said.

"Having the ability to detain people being smuggled into New Zealand is vital to give agencies time to establish and confirm identities, and assess whether an individual poses a risk to national security or public safety."

Estimates of the number of people on board vary between 100 and 200 people, including women and children, Indian police say. They believe the fishing boat was so overcrowded that many people had to leave their luggage behind.

For the migrants to reach New Zealand, they would need to travel more than 11,000km through some of the roughest seas in the world. Cyclones and storms are common in the straits between Indonesia and Australia, the most likely route for the boat.

Mr Vaughan warns it's a dangerous journey - and one the migrants might not survive.

"While reports of these types of ventures are concerning, the message to anyone contemplating such a journey is simple: Any attempt to reach New Zealand will put your life, and the lives of your family members, at great risk," he says.

"There is every chance you will drown at sea."

People smuggling is an offence punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.