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It’s being called “crimmigration” – an influx of deportees from Australia arriving in New Zealand – and our police have been tasked with overseeing their reintegration into a place most have never called home. Ellen Brook reports

Before the Australian Government changed its laws in 2015, Customs and Police had to deal with a handful of criminal deportees each month. Now, an average of 30 or more are crossing the ditch each month, creating a new type of “returning New Zealander” in the immigration stats.

They’re known collectively as the “501s”, referencing the amended section of Australia’s Migration Act that foreshadowed the wave of deportations.

The law change reduced the threshold for mandatory deportation from 24 months’ imprisonment to 12 months, including cumulative sentences, and broadened the criteria to include all child sex offenders, no matter the level of offending, and gang members or associates and anyone considered a threat to national security.

It’s a wide net, snaring petty crooks to murderers and high-roller gang members and one-off offenders, such as a drink-driver causing a death.

Last month, it was reported that a 40-year-old man born to Australian parents in American Samoa, who has never set foot in New Zealand, is due to be deported after 25 years in Australia. He became a New Zealand citizen almost by accident after being adopted by a New Zealand uncle in Australia when he was a teenager.

The irony of shipping law-breakers out of a country founded as a penal colony hasn’t fazed the decision-makers as they continue to get tough on resident Kiwis.

Since January 1, 2015, 1121 New Zealanders in Australia have had their visas cancelled and been deported.

Many of them left New Zealand as children, and are, culturally and socially, Australians, with few if any links here, but their citizenship status as Kiwis means they must start a new life, often without their families.

The figures tell the story

• 1121 New Zealanders have been deported from Australia since January 1, 2015

• One-third left New Zealand before the age of 10

• 40 per cent have lived overseas for more than 10 years

• 54 per cent are Maori or Pacific Islander

• 99 per cent have overseas convictions

• Nearly 200 returnees have outlaw motorcycle gang or other gang connections.

The New Zealand Government’s response was to set up the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015, which empowers police to oversee the detainees as they arrive and to impose parole conditions depending on the nature of the convictions.

It’s an awkward homecoming, with each deportee, accompanied by two security escorts while in the air, being met at the airport by police and representatives of other government agencies.

They are photographed and fingerprinted, must give a DNA sample and are interviewed by police airport intelligence officers.

The welcoming committee includes IRD, Work and Income and social agencies, including the Prisoners Aid Rehabilitation Society (PARS).

The process takes about two hours per person and has meant a significant increase in the workload for airport police staff in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The returnees are provided with a start-up benefit, a cellphone and an IRD number, and spend the first three nights in prepaid accommodation. Returning prisoners receive up to 12 weeks’ accommodation support and employment assistance.

Detective Sergeant Paul Tricklebank is the national deportee co-ordinator for Police, liaising with Australian authorities, including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), and making risk assessments about those returning to live here. He has been seconded to Interpol, which used to manage the arrivals before the law change and the increase in numbers.

His risk assessments are forwarded to Police districts, which are expected to provide some form of supervision or oversight of the returnees, visiting them regularly and helping them re-establish themselves as New Zealand citizens.

It’s not easy, and there have been several media interviews with individuals who have sad stories to tell about limited options and difficulties finding work and accommodation, getting a driver’s licence or accessing health services. Unresolved mental health and drug addiction issues don’t help.

“There is a wraparound service for them if they want it,” Paul says. “But a lot of them don’t want to have anything to do with Police or other government agencies.

“At the other end of the scale, some of these top gang guys are used to flying first class – they don’t need or want government support.”

Some will have wider family support, or will connect with others they have met in Australia’s detention centres (once out of prison in Australia, they can appeal deportation, during which time they are sent to a detention centre).

A “501” tattoo is reportedly popular among Kiwi detainees, as are “Route 501” logos printed on T-shirts.

A cohort of deportees with transnational and organised crime expertise is an obvious concern for police here.

In December, Paul was at the coalface of the deportation experience, accompanying 13 returnees on a one-off charter flight, paid for by Australia, to Auckland.

“They were all pretty unhappy about returning to New Zealand, but were very receptive to the explanations they received about what to expect in term of benefits, etc,” he says.

Of the more than 1000 who have come back since 2015, 579 were prisoners, 302 of whom are being supervised by Corrections.

Eighty-two per cent of the deportees end up in Auckland, most of them in Counties Manukau, and the rest are spread throughout the country.

No one is particularly happy about introducing a group of criminals, en masse, into already laden policing districts where they are expected to be monitored and managed by local police.

With a reoffending rate of 39 per cent, it is not long before some end up behind bars again, although the rate is about 10 per cent lower than for offenders released from New Zealand prisons.

The most common offences have involved dishonesty, traffic, violence, drugs and antisocial behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, Australian police services are generally more than happy with the new policy, glad to be rid of such offenders.

The Police Federation of Australia has said, however, that it believes too many low-level offenders are being caught up in the legislation and, at the other end of the spectrum, some judges appear to be imposing lighter sentences, below the 12-month threshold, to avoid mandatory visa cancellations and deportation orders.

New Zealand has a more liberal approach to deportation, using it for only the most serious of crimes, and taking into account family circumstances. It deports about eight Australians a year.

It’s predicted that the rate of deportation from Australia will keep going up for at least the next two years, according to reports from the Australian Border Force, so resourcing the management of even more returnees will inevitably become a bigger issue for agencies here.

And injecting more than 450 convicted criminals into the population each year isn’t going to make the Police goal of further crime reduction in the next three years any easier.

Out of 913 deportees arriving in New Zealand in the past two years, 886 were from Australia, and 367 of them were initially settled in the Auckland area (170 in Counties Manukau, 132 in Auckland City and 65 in Waitemata), with Canterbury taking in 91 and Wellington 78. There rest were spread throughout the other districts.

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