Exclusive: Syrian Kiwis forced into giving passwords, underwear searched by NZ Customs

Syrian-born Kiwis say they are being subjected to intrusive and unnecessary searches as they return home from overseas.

1 News has talked to a number of individuals who have been detained at Auckland airport, often for hours at a time. They've been forced to hand over their phones and laptops - and ordered to surrender passwords to social media accounts.

One man says he has been searched six times since 2015, with customs demanding passwords to his social media accounts. Source: 1 NEWS

Now community leaders say they fear Syrians are being profiled and they are demanding an explanation from Customs officials.

SEARCHED SIX TIMES SINCE 2015

Samer Soud has been stopped and detained six times since 2015 as he returned home from visiting his 28-year-old son Martin in Sydney.

On three of those occasions he's been forced to hand over his devices, and he says his wife Evelyn was left embarrassed and furious after border guards trawled through her underwear.

"I have been searched thoroughly all through my wardrobe and my phone, my laptop and I have been asked to explain about my journey to Sydney.

"Why did I go to Sydney? What did I do in Sydney?... The first three times, probably I've been stopped each time for three hours, which is really annoying. I was with my wife and my younger son."

The family were travelling back and forth to Australia after his son became engaged - and then for the wedding.

Customs staff also asked for details about his son.

"I have to answer every question, you know - what does he do, where he lives, his work address, his phone numbers ... Does he live alone?"

Mr Soud says it's an "awful feeling" when officers go through their belongings. "I don't mind them looking at anything because I've got nothing to hide...[but] it's frustrating me and it's a degrading really, you become humiliated and they're looking through your private stuff, you know - especially you have some memories, photos you don't want anyone else to see, you know. And my wife's wardrobe, you know, all of private stuff there and they go through everything in detail."

He says he's given "no choice" but to hand over passwords to What's App, Facebook and his mobile phone. "If you say no they tell you - in the beginning - don't make it hard on yourself."

FIVE-HOUR INTERROGATION AFTER HOLIDAY IN BALI

Ashraf Almoukdad has lived in New Zealand for three decades. He was held for almost five hours after returning from a holiday in Bali in September. He says he wasn't allowed to phone his children who were waiting outside to collect him.

"[They] explained to me if I don't cooperate, I will be staying here longer and longer and longer... [I was] so tired, so angry, and so alone. You are not allowed to drink, you are not allowed to use your phone, you are not allowed to tell your kids who are waiting outside."

He says an official asked him where he'd been, which hotel he'd stayed at and to point out individuals in each photo on his phone. "It was totally intrusive and...I felt angry... If we are serious terrorists would ever leave photos with our ISIS pals on our phone? It's silly."

'SUDDENLY WE ARE NOT KIWI ENOUGH'

Both men say they are frustrated officials won't give them an explanation.

"It would be nice if they tell us why I have been stopped, and I actually ask them many times but every time I had the answer: 'We don't know. We don't know'," Mr Soud said.

Mr Almoukdad said: "There must be profiling...we are New Zealanders like every other full New Zealanders. We have never created a reason for anybody to get suspicious of us.

"This way of treatment at the airport - suddenly we are not Kiwi enough, we are not trusted. Somebody decided we are potential bad people. What did we do to justify that treatment?"

CUSTOMS: NUMBER OF SEARCHES IS VERY LOW

In a statement, a spokesman for Customs said: "We use intelligence information and risk-based profiling to identify passengers that may need further questioning. This could be for a range of reasons, such as establishing their visit is genuine, or risk assessing for offending such as smuggling drugs, weapons, child exploitation images, identity fraud, or to determine if they may pose a threat to New Zealand's national security.

"Extensive screening is carried out using data and technology to identify those who might pose a risk before interacting with passengers - the number of passengers searched is very low.

Fewer than 10,000 out of 5.4 million arriving passengers (less than 0.2 %) have their bags examined, and not all of these people have their electronic devices examined.

"A range of indicators are considered when deciding to interact with passengers -- from nationality (to determine if a passenger has originated travel in, or passed through, a region of risk), through to body language and general demeanour. Customs does not profile passengers based on religion or belief."

It says the Customs and Excise Act 1996 allows it to search passengers' goods. And that includes devices.

"The numbers of devices examined is very low. Customs officers may ask to search an e-device for a number of reasons e.g. to verify travel pans or statements, check for objectionable material (e.g. child sexual abuse or terrorism-related), or identify any evidence of offending (e.g. drugs or fraud)."

But Green MP Kennedy Graham says the number of searches have increased since foreign fighters anti-terror laws were passed in 2014.

"These are New Zealand citizens. They are coming back from overseas as New Zealand citizens and they are being discriminated against because of their ethnic or religious background."



Strong growth expected in GDP figures to be released this morning

All eyes are on the country's financial performance this morning with economists expecting strong growth.

The latest GDP figures are due for release, with ASB tipping they'll show strong quarterly growth.

Westpac have forecast the annual rate of growth to hold steady at 2.7 percent and both banks are picking a 0.9 per cent rise for the quarter.

Eyes are on the country’s financial performance this morning, with ASB tipping strong quarterly growth. Source: Breakfast

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'Angel' takes disabled friend on 'wacky' world adventures and is rewarded with $10,000

A young woman who has taken a teenager with cerebral palsy on adventures around the world, donated a kidney to an old school friend and helped many others has been rewarded with $10,000 for more adventures and to look after herself for a change.

Leah Stewart, who's 23, is the winner of this week's ASB Good as Gold award on TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

Donating an organ and helping others were on a bucket list Leah wrote when she was just 16, and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. 

Nineteen-year-old Alicia Kapa - Leah's best friend - and Mum Joanna Kapa have really appreciated Leah's help.

Joanna explained that Alicia wasn't breathing when she was born and has cerebral palsy as a result of that lack of oxygen. 

"She loves adventure and her and her best mate Leah have travelled around the world and done all sports of crazy, crazy things," Joanna said.

These have included a cruise in the Bahamas, adventures in New York and bungy jumping.

Joanna said it means a huge amount to her that Alicia is "getting out and doing stuff that everybody at her age should be able to do, that she's safe, she hasn't got her mother hanging around with her, which is a big thing".

Alicia agreed with that last point.

She's everything that you would think when you think of an angel - Joanna Kapa

Joanna said Leah is "everything that you would think when you think of an angel".

While Alicia declared: "Leah is an amazing friend to me."

Leah and Alicia's adventures have been documented in videos on their own YouTube channel called 'Wheely Wacky Adventures".

Reporter Sam Wallace surprised Leah in suburban Auckland telling her ASB want to give her $5000 for some more Wheely Wacky Adventures, and $5000 "for you to look after yourself because you never do it".

"That sounds amazing," said a stunned Leah as she hugged Alicia in her wheelchair out on the street, surrounded by friends.

Leah admitted she has helped "a few" people and said just over a year ago she donated her left kidney to a friend from high school and "thinks" she saved her life.

The win will help with a trip she and Alicia booked themselves next week because they were missing each other. 

"And the whole thing went on my credit card because I had no money in the bank. And I knew I had some big student loans coming up. I was planning on calling the IRD on Monday and sorting out one of them," Leah said.

This giving friend can relax a little now - until the next wacky adventure.

Leah Stewart wrote her list when she was 16 and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. Source: Seven Sharp


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Auckland boy who lost his dad to cancer thriving through programme helping young rugby players

A programme in West Auckland is coaching rugby coaches to help young players develop life skills to deal with big challenges.

Jonesy's Youth Foundation was set up by Michael Jones - who shares his name with the legendary former All Black.

"The idea came to me through Massey Rugby Club. There was a boy who's mum got killed about 14 years ago, and for some reason it stuck with me all that time, 'what did the rugby club do to help him after the situation?'" Jones told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp. 

Through the foundation, men run courses for coaches of junior rugby players.

"What the courses will do is it'll teach the coach to be able to integrate rugby skills with character development and life skill development," Mr Jones said."

It's about developing the young players "as people first," he said.

Ben Allen - or 'Pies' as he's known coaches schoolboy rugby player Connor O'Donnell. Connor's Dad, Shaun, died four years ago from cancer.

Mr Allen said he teaches Connor, "things like communication and talking to his teammates and encouraging each other which are all important traits that you need in life".

"I'll never replace Shaun. He was an amazing Dad and and an amazing guy."

He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that. - Junior rugby player Connor O'Donnell

Connor reckons 'Pies' is an amazing coach.

"He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that."

Connor's Mum, Helen O'Donnell, said she promised his Dad before he died that she'd keep his love and passion for rugby going, but struggled with how she'd do that. She said Shaun would be "absolutely over the moon" that she's been able to keep that promise.  

The foundation has had some high-profile helping hands like former All Black Josh Kronfeld. 

Kronfeld said the coaches help the players with, "how to deal with pressure, how to deal with the bad moments, and loss, all those things".

Jonesy - who's also a Dad - says the foundation is there for for the long haul.

"We're here forever. We want to see him develop and grow [into] that 18 and 20-year-old when he gets a job."

Jonesy's Youth Foundation is having a Gala Dinner this Saturday. If you want tickets, the details are on Seven Sharp's Facebook page.


Jonesy's Youth Foundation is there for Connor O'Donnell, and others, in their time of need. Source: Seven Sharp


'My god she can run' - woman at centre of hilarious Kawakawa dog escape video says Lily is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame

A Bay of Islands woman told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp she is "never going to live this down" after footage of her rescue dog Lily dragging a bakery's flag down the main street of Kawakawa went viral around the globe.

CCTV footage of the freedom-seeking furball's runner — accompanied by Yakety Sax, the song made famous by the Benny Hill Show — has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was posted to Facebook last night.

Lucie Green, a volunteer with Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, was taking the basset hound for a walk last week when she decided to stop at a local business to buy Lily a treat.

But the Basset Hound received a fright and bolted despite being tied to a large Coca-Cola flag forcing Lucie to give chase.

"For an animal with just little legs, my god she can run," Lucie told Seven Sharp.

Lily, Lucie and the rogue flag brought Kawakawa's State Highway 1 strip to a standstill, the whole escapade captured on CCTV.

"My partner owns a local CCTV company I got to the office and I told him what had happened.

"He didn't tell me he'd done it, but he edited footage and put the music on and uploaded it to Facebook and tagged me in it.

"I knew it was trouble when basically by the time we'd gone to bed last night it had hit 100,000 views," Lucie said.

Thousands of people have since commented on the video, with many of them admiring the dog’s spirit.

"I'm laughing my guts out it's so funny," wrote Facebook user Annie Hicks.

Lucie does see the funny side of events however.

"They say every dog has their day, so I guess Lily is enjoying her 15 mins of fame." 

Lily made a run for it when owner Lucie Green stopped at a shop in the Northland town. Source: Seven Sharp