WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday said Muslim women wearing veils should not face discrimination, after two Saudi women were reportedly ordered off buses due to their attire.
Saudi diplomats in New Zealand had raised concerns with the government after two separate incidents in Auckland where women were told to get off buses because they were wearing full-face veils, the Dominion Post reported.
In one case, a Saudi Arabian student was left crying on the street after the bus driver shouted “Out!” then shut the doors on her and drove off, the newspaper said.
Key said he was comfortable with women wearing veils, adding: “It doesn’t offend me. It’s part of people’s beliefs.”
He decribed New Zealand as a tolerant and inclusive society, saying he saw no need to ban Islamic veils in public, as France has done.
“I think where practical, and on both sides, people should respect others’ culture and cultural beliefs,” Key told reporters.
“There is practical reason why sometimes a burqa won’t be applicable – banks for example, for security reasons from time to time they will enforce that.
“But for the most part we are a multi-cultural society and we should respect other’s cultural beliefs.”
In April, France became the first country in Europe to apply a ban on the wearing of full-face coverings, including the Islamic niqab and the burqa.
The country’s largest bus operator, NZ Bus, which was involved in both Auckland incidents, said two drivers had been sent on counselling programmes but were not dismissed because their actions were not religiously motivated.
“Both drivers … claim it’s not religious … but they genuinely have a phobia of people wearing masks, hence why we have not dismissed them,” NZ Bus general manager Jon Calder told the Dominion Post.
The Saudi Arabian consul-general in Auckland declined to comment.