Nurul Syahidah Noor Azman, 30, has been found guilty of providing false information in refugee claims. Photo / Qiuyi Tan
A Malaysian national who made up refugee stories and lied to Immigration in claims for asylum has been convicted on immigration fraud charges at the Auckland District Court.
Nurul Syahirah Binti Noor Azman, 30, was found guilty on five charges of supplying false or misleading information under the Immigration Act 2009.
She made up stories of terror and persecution – including that of a husband being a gay man facing death threats, a woman harassed by loan sharks after her debt-ridden husband died and a couple facing threats from neighbours wanting to burn down their house.
Azman’s offending occurred in 2020 and saw her involved in the lodging of false refugee claims with INZ.
Karen Bishop, INZ’s acting general manager verification and compliance, says the offending was detected following an operation in the Bay of Plenty in 2020 when INZ was looking into allegations migrant workers in the horticulture industry were being exploited.
“As a result of that work, we discovered migrant workers were being encouraged to falsely claim refugee status to obtain work visas and other privileges,” Bishop said.
According to Bishop, Azman was paid up to $600 each to facilitate these fake claims.
The court was told that Azman was on a working holiday in New Zealand where she worked as an interpreter at an Auckland-based law firm.
During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, she lived in Tauranga and stayed at the same place as several migrants who worked as kiwifruit pickers.
The Crown alleges Azman encouraged the migrants to apply for refugee status, made up the stories, and took them to her law firm for lawyers to file their refugee claims.
The migrants did not speak or read English, and sought New Zealand visas or better jobs.
Bishop described Azman’s offending as cynical, manipulative and damaging to genuine refugees.
“Receiving these claims took up valuable time and effort for our Refugee and Protection staff. It was time and effort that genuine applicants with real needs missed out on,” Bishop said.
INZ officials believe the organised scheme involved 158 cases, which it says appears to be “a deliberate scheme to exploit New Zealand’s refugee and protection system”.
Most of the asylum seekers claimed that without refugee status to protect them, they would face retribution from loan sharks in Indonesia and Malaysia. In some cases, identical wordings were used to outline their fear of being attacked if they returned home.
Azman is due to be sentenced at the Waitakere District Court on February 15 2023.
Bishop urged anyone who knew of similar offending to report them.
This can be done through MBIE’s contact centre on 0800 209020, or to police or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via the online Crimestoppers form.