Sadly our own nation partook in apprehending innocent people at a time it suited NZ's political and economic agenda.  The financial downturn targeted mostly people of Pacific Island appearance. Ironically enough there were more 'overstayers' from other countries however, they were not targeted. Many believe it was a racially driven policy and Helen Clark herself expressed it was due to appearance.

The fear and impact upon families has long lasting affects that leave behind mostly invisible scars of pain and sufferance but it is an issue that should never be forgotten because it is an issue that deserves to be acknowledged and is part of our own history around immigration policy.

The dawn raids were shameful because, in essence, they set out to pick up anyone who didn’t look like a Pakeha or Palangi New Zealander. They swooped on on people who were Maori, they swooped on many Pasifika people who had absolutely lawful residence in New Zealand. 

– Helen Clark

Dawn raids intensify

With the economy in recession and unemployment rising, attention turned to the issue of ‘overstayers’ – immigrants whose temporary visas had expired. Singled out for overloading the welfare system, some were chased up and deported. Dawn raids on the homes of alleged overstayers by police had occurred in 1974 but intensified in October 1976. Homes were stormed at night or in the early hours of the morning, tactics that caused outrage and brought accusations of racism. Samoan and Tongan overstayers were singled out; some people of these ethnicities were stopped in the street and asked for proof of residency. It was pointed out that the greatest influx of temporary immigrants had come from the United Kingdom and Australia. The dawn raids cast a dark shadow over race relations in this country.

Dawn Raids  Television – 2005 Documentary

Dawn raids on Pacific Islanders

In this clip from the 2005 documentary film Dawn raids, Roger Fowler of the People's Union and Will 'Ilolahia, a founder of the Polynesian Panther Movement, discuss their work as activists in the 1970s, advising Polynesian immigrants of their rights in dealing with the police. It was the era of the 'dawn raids', when the police were actively trying to track down immigrants who had overstayed their work visas. Their focus on Pacific Islanders raised the human-rights question of whether the authorities were discriminating against people of particular ethnicities or national origins.

Courtesy of Isola Productions

New Zealand

Dawn raids were a common event in Auckland, New Zealand, during a crackdown on illegal overstayers from the Pacific Islands from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The raids were first introduced in 1973 by Norman Kirk's Labour government and were continued by Rob Muldoon's National government.[1] These operations involved special police squads conducting raids on the homes and workplaces of overstayers throughout New Zealand usually at dawn. Overstayers and their families were often prosecuted and then deported back to their countries.[2][3]

The Dawn Raids were a product of the New Zealand government's immigration policies to attract more Pacific Islanders. Since the 1950s, the New Zealand government had encouraged substantial emigration from several Pacific countries including SamoaTonga, and Fiji to fill a labour shortage caused by the post–war economic boom. Consequently, the Pacific Islander population in New Zealand had grow to 45,413 by 1971, with a substantial number overstaying their visas.[4] During the late 1960s and early 1970s, New Zealand's economy had declined due to several international developments: a decline in international wool prices in 1966, Britain joining the European Economic Community in 1973 which deprived NZ of a major market for dairy products, and the 1973 oil crisis. This economic downturn led to increased crime, unemployment and other social ailments, which disproportionately affected the Pacific Islander community.[5]

In response to these social problems, Prime Minister Kirk created a special police task force in Auckland in 1973 which was tasked with dealing with overstayers. Its powers also included the power to conduct random checks on suspected overstayers. Throughout 1974, the New Zealand Police conducted dawn raids against overstayers which sparked criticism from human rights groups and sections of the press. In response to public criticism, the Labour Immigration Minister Fraser Colman suspended the dawn raids until the government developed a "concerted plan." In April 1974, Kirk also introduced a two–month amnesty period for overstayers to register themselves with the authorities and be granted with a two–month visa extension. Kirk's change in policies were criticized by the mainstream press, which highlighted crimes and violence perpetrated by Māori and Pacific Islanders.[6]

In July 1974, the opposition National Party leader Muldoon promised to reduce immigration and to "get tough" on law and order issues if his party was elected as government. He criticized the Labour government's immigration policies for contributing to the economic recession and a housing shortage. During the 1975 general elections, the National Party also played a controversial electoral advertisement that was later criticized for stoking negative racial sentiments about Polynesian migrants.[7] Once in power, Muldoon's government accelerated the Kirk government's police raids against Pacific overstayers.[3]

The Dawn Raids were condemned by different sections of New Zealand society including the Pacific Islander and Māori communities, church groups, employers and workers' unions, anti-racist groups, and the opposition Labour Party. One Pacific group known as the Polynesian Panthers combated the Dawn Raids by providing legal aid to detainees and staging retaliatory "dawn raids" on several National cabinet ministers including Bill Birch and Frank Gill, the Minister of Immigration. The raids were also criticized by elements of the police and the ruling National Party for damaging race relations with the Pacific Island community.[8] Critics also alleged that the Dawn Raids unfairly targeted Pacific Islanders since Pacific Islanders only comprised one-third of the overstayers but made up 86% of those arrested and prosecuted for overstaying. The majority of overstayers were from Great BritainAustralia, and South Africa.[2] The Muldoon government's treatment of overstayers also damaged relations with Pacific countries like Samoa and Tonga, and generated criticism from the South Pacific Forum. By 1979, the Muldoon government terminated the Dawn Raids since the deportation of illegal Pacific overstayers had failed to alleviate the ailing New Zealand economy.[2]

This pamphlet was prepared by ACORD (the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination) and published by Amnesty Aroha. It tells the story of a dawn raid on a family of Tongans for allegedly overstaying in New Zealand in 1976. The raids in part reflected a scapegoating of Pacific people as the New Zealand economy deteriorated in the mid-1970s.

Migration to New Zealand

Although Samoans have travelled to New Zealand since the early 1900s, it was not until the 1950s that they migrated in large numbers. As New Zealand’s industry and the service sector expanded over the next 30 years, the search for labour was extended to territories and former territories in the Pacific. Many Samoans moved to New Zealand for greater opportunities and a better education for their children.


Entry was not unrestricted. From 1964, the government issued three-month visas, and from 1967 it set annual quotas for immigrants. As long as the demand for labour was strong, the regulations were not enforced. But when the New Zealand economy declined after 1973, this flexibility ended. Dawn raids on the homes of alleged overstayers began in 1974. Politicians blamed Pacific Islanders for overloading social services, and they shaped a negative stereotype of Pacific Islanders.

Although many Samoans and Tongans were guilty of overstaying their visas, the focus on these two ethnic groups was unacceptable to many. They pointed out that the greatest influx of temporary migrants in these years was from the United Kingdom and Australia. For older Pacific Islanders, the traumatic dawn raids remain bitter memories.

The Polynesian Panthers emerged in the 1970s to support Pacific peoples in New Zealand. They informed people of their legal rights, ran homework centres for school children, visited inmates at Auckland’s Pāremoremo prison, put on concerts, and supported Māori protests.

Continuing migration

Despite the tough immigration laws, Samoans continued to enter New Zealand. Between 1971 and 1981 the number of Samoan-born residents doubled, reaching 24,141. In 1982 the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act granted citizenship to Samoan-born New Zealanders. After that, new quotas for entry were set. Since 2002 the quota has allowed 1,100 Samoans to be granted residence each year.

In 2013, 144,138 people of Samoan ethnicity were living in New Zealand – about half of all those with Pacific ethnicity. A clear majority of Samoans were now born in New Zealand; those born in Samoa numbered 50,658.

New Zealand’s apology to Samoa

In June 2002 New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to Samoa for three actions taken by the New Zealand administration between 1918 and 1929: allowing the ship Talune, carrying passengers with influenza, to dock in Apia, which resulted in the deaths of one in five Samoans; shooting non-violent protesters in December 1929; and banishing Samoan leaders and stripping them of their chiefly titles.

Dawn Raids

The Dawn Raids were a series of raids carried out at random by the New Zealand police during the mid 1970's against immigrants. These raids were a result of the New Zealand Economic crash of the late 1960's and early 1970's which resulted in unemployment and other social issues. Police had specifically (and in some cases unintentionally) targeted Polynesians in these dawn raids in the Government's attempt to crack down on over stayers living in New Zealand. Many Polynesians saw this as discriminatory and unfair as they saw that the Police were only conducting these raids on them even though there  were over-stayers from all parts of the world such as Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Those who were not able to provide papers and passports were deported as soon as the next day back to their original country. This sparked controversy among New Zealanders and foreigh countries. A group known as the Polynesian Panthers played a heavy role in protest of the dawn raids.

The dawn raids were shameful because, in essence, they set out to pick up anyone who didn’t look like a Pakeha or Palangi New Zealander. They swooped on on people who were Maori, they swooped on many Pasifika people who had absolutely lawful residence in New Zealand. 

– Helen Clark
It was a painful time to be a Pacific Islander in New Zealand I don't think it's something we should hide from.  

– Oscar Kightley (Sunday Star Times, 31 July 2005)

The Polynesian Panthers

The Polynesian Panthers were a group that were founded on the 16th June 1971 by New Zealand born Polynesians. They were heavily influenced and inspired by the American black civil rights group called the "The Black Panthers" and adopted many of their ideas. The founders included Fred Schmidt, Nooroa Teavae, Paul Dapp, Vaughan Sanft, Eddie Williams and Will 'Ilolahia. Members of the group were mostly young adults around the age of 20. with many being ex-gang members. The group also ranged of students, ex-prison convicts and included Maori members. The Panthers mostly operated from their headquarters out in Ponsonby, Central Auckland, and soon spread out down the country as far as Dunedin.The Panthers aimed to help their Polynesian community with issues that they faced such as poor housing conditions, poverty, food packages, prison visits, homework centers, and legal aid. They were also a key group in the protest against the Dawn Raids. After the raids the Panthers worked alongside many other groups like Nga Tamatoa and fight against discrimination and injustice. Some of the protests that they took part in included the Springbok Tour and Bastion Point protest.