A failed asylum seeker who New Zealand authorities have tried to send back to Iran for more than 20 years has lost his appeal against deportation.
In one of the longest-running cases of its kind, Amir Hoshang Mohebbi lost a 1997 claim for asylum – and another a decade later – but was able to stay in the country for 25 years.
He refused to apply for a passport in the 2000s, which at the time meant he could not be sent home, and was convicted of drug dealing and bigamy.
On two occasions he won appeals against deportation because he had begun new relationships.
In November 2000, he was convicted of making a false oath when he arrived in New Zealand and bigamy, as his first marriage had not been dissolved when he married in 1998.
The following year, he breached a protection order granted for his second wife’s safety, but by then he was in a new relationship and his new partner gave birth shortly after.
In 2003, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) served another removal order and took him into custody.
But INZ could not deport Mohebbi as he again refused to produce his Iranian passport or to apply for a new passport from Iran and New Zealand had no agreement with Iran for the return of people without passports.
“On an application for habeas corpus, the High Court ordered [his] release from custody on the basis that the Immigration Act 1987 authorised his detention for the purpose of establishing his identity, not for the purpose of persuading him to produce or to apply for a passport,” said notes from his latest appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT).
Mohebbi made a second claim for refugee status, which was dismissed, as were several requests to the immigration minister for a visa to stay.
He was held again on warrants of commitment, while refusing to provide a passport.
“In November 2007, after nearly four years in custody, the High Court ordered his release on the basis that there were exceptional circumstances for release pending an agreement between New Zealand and Iran for the return of Iranian nationals.
“On his release, Immigration New Zealand granted him a limited purpose permit and then a work permit. In March 2009, he applied for residence based on his partnership with his partner. In April 2010, Immigration New Zealand granted a resident visa to the appellant.”
But Mohebbi imported methamphetamine the same year by sending some hidden inside a photo frame from Iran. He was not prosecuted and it was only eight years later, after he was caught importing and supply meth and selling cannabis, that he was jailed.
He was stopped when he went to pick up two satchels containing almost half a kilogram of methamphetamine from the Customs Services delivery counter.
He was jailed for 10 years and five months, with a minimum period of imprisonment of five years. However, in 2020 the Court of Appeal removed that minimum term and three months later he was released on parole.
“Determined to remain”
A clinical psychologist told the tribunal Mohebbi said he would kill himself rather than be deported to Iran.
“This was indicative that he still had the wilfulness and defiance he showed in the mid-2000s when he refused to cooperate with authorities seeking to arrange his return to Iran. … [He] has lived in New Zealand for nearly 25 years and is determined to remain living in the country.”
The tribunal summarised what the 49-year-old said about why he should be allowed to stay.
“Since his release from prison, [he] states that he has done everything he can to move forward with his life and not to repeat his previous mistakes. He engaged with all his supports until he started employment and complied with parole requirements, including reporting to his probation officer every two weeks and passing drug tests.
“[Mohebbi] is remorseful for his offending. He states that he has no excuse and apologises to the New Zealand public for what he has done. He states that he has learned a lot about himself in prison and during the programmes he completed, and he will never offend again.
“He states that the most important thing in his life is now to play a meaningful part in his children’s lives. He was not there for them when he was in prison. This had a huge impact on them and is something that he will always deeply regret.
“The appellant states that his life would be meaningless without his children and that he would struggle mentally if separated from them. He feels more like a New Zealander than an Iranian. He would have no life in Iran.”
A lawyer for INZ, which issued the latest deportation notice, told the tribunal that of the quarter-century Mohebbi spent in New Zealand, only 15 years had been in the community.
More than four years was in immigration detention because he would not provide a passport, five years was spent in prison and almost two years spent overseas, mainly in Iran, between 2010 and 2015.
The IPT ruled the father-of-three did not have exceptional circumstances and he should be deported.
“The tribunal accepts that [Mohebbi] would miss his children if he had to return to Iran, and they would miss him. However, they are now young adults who are employed, financially independent and able to maintain a relationship with him, if he returns to Iran.”
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