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The Dawn Raids

In this article, we learn about the Dawn Raids, a painful period of Aotearoa's history in which Pasifika people were racially targeted by authorities.
A printed piece of blue paper with a black and white picture of a crowd of police. The text above them reads
© Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

We’ve talked a lot about the growth of the Māori activism movement throughout the 20th century, but Pacific Islander-led movements have had a huge impact too.

Pasifika Labour

During a post-war labour shortage, people were encouraged to come to New Zealand, often to work menial jobs like factory work. The population of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa boomed, with many bringing over their families, or sending money back to the islands. Though many migrants were on temporary visas, the government depended on these workers, and publicly turned a blind eye to immigration requirements.

However as an economic downturn loomed in the mid-seventies, Pasifika workers became an easy target for both labour cutbacks, and as a societal scapegoat for economic tensions. A campaign of mass deportation began, culminating in what is known as ‘The Dawn Raids’.

Dawn Raids

Police and immigration officials would raid homes at night and dawn, often without warrants, targeting Pacific Island families who lived in an environment of growing fear as the government’s policies spilled into street-level harassment by authorities. Special squads in main centres were tasked with carrying out random checks or ‘blitzes’ on anyone at any time. These blitzes targeted ‘drinkers in pubs, passengers at taxi ranks, pedestrians on Auckland streets, workers in factories, New Zealand-born people of Pacific descent, university students, Māori’.

”If you were brown, you were stopped by the police. If you were brown and had no ID, you went straight to the cell…I was one of the people stopped on the road by a group of cops on K Road, and I asked one of them why they stopped us and I was asked for my passport. And I thought that’s the kind of thing they did in Nazi Germany, they ask for your passport. I said, ‘look, I was born in New Zealand, I don’t usually carry my passport around in my back pocket because I’m not travelling anywhere’.”
Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua
A young Tongan policeman at the time, Joseph Liava’a, corroborated this feeling, later saying he had felt like ‘a Jew in the German Army’ during the Dawn Raids.


That these raids and blitzes were a biased undertaking was clear in the data – Pacific Islanders made up only around 33% of overstayers, but more than 85% of those who were targeted, arrested, and deported. The majority of overstayers were from Great Britain, South Africa, and the USA.
”Statistics show that through the 70s and the 1980s, that the bulk of overstayers in New Zealand were actually from Europe and from North America, but they weren’t targeted to anything like the same extent.”
– Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley

Watch this video to see what this meant for these vulnerable workers, and why it led to the birth of a powerful protest group, the Polynesian Panther Party, raging against racism and the punitive approach by the government towards some of society’s most vulnerable members.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Further Reading

Full length Dawn Raids documentary (2005)

The dawn raids: causes, impacts and legacy

Immigration Notice, 1976, held at Te Papa. Towards the end of the Dawn Raids period and after significant backlash, Pacific Islander overstayers were allowed to register in hopes of being allowedto stay in NZ

Tongan grandmother shares heart breaking Dawn Raids experience with granddaughter (video, 8 mins)

Article on the teachers who hid Pasifika students during school raids, and the planks of wood that tell the story of hiding

© Te Papa. All rights Reserved
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The History of Protest in Aotearoa New Zealand

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