Let Acclaimed Iranian Director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami into NZ

Alex Lee
Alex Lee Auckland, Auckland Region 354 Comments
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In an internationally embarrassing gaffe of the highest order, NZ Immigration Service has refused to grant a visitors visa to Iranian award-winning Iranian film director and human rights activist on the grounds that NZIS believes she is a risk of overstaying.

This refusal based on immigration profiling based on her nationality has disappointed and frustrated Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, as well as the organisers of the Documentary Edge film festival.

Film buffs had been looking forward to her appearance and masterclasses in New Zealand as a star attraction at festival events in Wellington and Auckland.

Ghaemmaghami is the director of Sonita, a film released last year about a 14-year-old Sonita Alizada, an Afghan refugee living in Tehran who pursues a vocation as a fiery hip-hop MC – a move that puts her at odds with her home country's authoritarian regime, particularly its enforced marriage practices.

The film has won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival and has been met with widespread critical acclaim.

Festival director Dan Shannan said Ghaemmaghami was to be one of the main guests at this year's event, which runs from May 4 to 15 in Wellington and from May 18 to 29 in Auckland. The decision has harmed the internationally respected festival and its industry event.

"It's is a disaster for us. She was going to be speaking at both of the screenings of her film and was meant to be holding masterclasses on her work in documentaries. Our reputation is at risk and NZ will be an international laughing stock."

He is calling on immigration minister Michael Woodhouse, arts and culture minister Maggie Barry and opposition immigration spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern for help.

Interviewed by NZ journalist, Mike Mather,, Ghaemmaghami said from the USA that she has hoped to travel to New Zealand to promote her work first hand.

"They say because I do not have enough ties to my own country I might want to stay in New Zealand. But that is not correct," she said.–

Ghaemmaghami's visit to New Zealand is part of a busy world tour travelling to promote and speak about Sonita, which also includes stops at Spain, Australia, New York, Turkey and Serbia. Her film Sonita gives a valuable insight into the lives of young Afghan girls and arranged marriages. She is a much sought after international speaker for her work on human rights and social issues.

The decision by Washington DC-based Immigration NZ immigration officer Theresia Tong states Ghaemmaghami was refused entry "because we are not satisfied that you are a bona fide temporary entry applicant, genuinely intending a temporary stay in New Zealand.

"In making this determination we have taken into consideration all information, documents, submissions and your personal circumstances submitted in support of this application. Based on the information that you have supplied, you do not appear to have strong social, economic and family ties to the country of origin or residence, and we believe these circumstances appear to limit or discourage you from departing New Zealand.

"We therefore are not satisfied that you are a bona fide visitor to New Zealand, genuinely intending a temporary stay for a lawful purpose."

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