Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NZ media 'misses point' in visa scam, says Tongan group

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch

Tongan Advisory Council chairman Melino Maka (pictured) has criticised New Zealand’s mainstream media for “missing the point” in coverage of an alleged visa scam on Pacific Islanders.

Manukau-based immigration consultant, Gerrard Otimi, appeared in court yesterday and entered no pleas on three charges of deception.

The charges against Otimi involve the alleged stamping of passports with visas for overstaying Pacific Island immigrants at a cost of $500 and adoption by his hapu.

The New Zealand Herald reported that $40,000 had been uncovered by police yesterday in the Manukau area as well as 5000 blank “hapu certificates”.

The police and immigration departments have since called for duped Pacific Islanders to come forward, although there is no guarantee of amnesty.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said he sympathised with the islanders involved in the alleged scam, while Pacific Island Affairs Minister Georgina te Heuheu called the deceit “deplorable”, especially with “some of the most vulnerable people in our country” as victims.

Maka told Pacific Media Watch he planned to arrange a lawyer to look into the Tongan cases involved in the alleged scam.

He also added that the spotlight should be on the perpetrators and not the victims.

“The mainstream [media] is not sympathetic. They don’t know how it is, and perhaps they don’t want to know. But they tend to sensationalise the issue,” he said.

A news release from the council stated that most media fail to recognise two major issues “driving people to take such extreme steps”.

This includes a “very mixed history” in NZ Immigration Department’s dealings with Pacific Island issues, including a “high level of poor decisions”.

Also, the council claimed that complaints from Pacific Islanders about misinformation and mishandling on the part of immigration consultants were “not treated as high a priority as removing the overstayers themselves”.

Maka said the Tonga Advisory Council would organise “free advice workshops” for immigrants next month to deal with these issues.

Courts 'have no right to judge tikanga Māori'

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