By: Gurbir Singh
In spite of New Zealand government assisting over 1,500 NZers and their families in their repatriation flights, there are hundreds others who are now losing hope of an early return.
According to some unconfirmed reports, the largest number of pending repatriation requests are said to be from India.
Almost all those left-behind now are Indian-origin citizens, permanent residents and holders of work visa – all desperate to return home, fearing job losses. Currently, people on temporary visas – other than citizens and residents, are restricted from entering New Zealand. Some exceptions, however, do apply and such travellers need to apply for an exception.
According to the latest stats released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday, 1,112 of those repatriated on govt-assisted flights were from at least 19 countries.
From India, 440 Kiwis were repatriated in the first two flights and the third flight leaves Delhi early today for Christchurch with 200+ passengers. Each passenger was required to pay $5500 fare.
Allocation of seats on flights from India was prioritised by MFAT. Hundreds, however, are said to have missed the opportunity as they were either located in far-flung regions, or did not meet the criteria.
A spokesperson of MFAT, however, has assured NewsViews yesterday that options to bring remaining NZers home are still being explored at various levels.
This group has been raising their voice on social media and tagging ministers and politicians, to get their attention and action.
NewsViews has also been inundated with messages from the emotionally-drained and stressed people pleading for “just one or two more flights”.
Criticism of the government and issues raised by the media on their behalf, has not gone unnoticed.
In his media conference yesterday, the Dy PM & Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters said: “We acknowledge criticisms of the government’s efforts from individual citizens caught in difficult situations offshore, and by the media on their behalf. That is natural but sometimes the anecdotal can shade the larger response effort.
“This has also been the most complex consular response a NZ Govt has ever attempted– because rules around lockdowns, border crossings, transits and flight links are changing every minute of every day.”
While complimenting the MFAT team for delivering the “largest and most complex consular operation in its 77-year-history”, the Minister said “MFAT staff have been working 24/7 to ensure Kiwis stranded offshore get the support they need. In the last three months, MFAT has provided consular advice to 4,500 NZers.”
Yesterday, when NewsViews took up the concerns of those stranded in India with MFAT, their spokesperson assured they are still looking at various options.
“We are aware that there are still NZ citizens and permanent residents in India, including those in southern India, and we remain committed to helping NZers whenever possible. We are looking into flight options for them, including working with partner governments,” the spokesperson told NewsViews in a statement.
Confirming that “NZ citizens and their families within a reasonable distance of New Delhi or Mumbai were offered the opportunity to join one of the three repatriation flights leaving those cities’, MFAT cited the example of “facilitating the departure of 14 New Zealanders from Kolkata recently on a flight arranged by Australia.”
But the uncertainty is increasing, and one Indian-origin Kiwi stranded in south India has been reportedly informed by MFAT “at this stage, there are no further planned repatriation flights after the flt on 30 April from Delhi.”
He says: “we are losing hopes each day. Our job is not secure, our families are not with us, many have no mental or emotional support here…”
Gunjan Gera, a horticultural scientist and her partner who is a lecturer in horticultural sciences, are among those who were not accommodated on the three flights.
This couple who are permanent residents, have ongoing employment, but are worried about losing their jobs. “How long they (employers) can wait?” Gunjan asks.
When NewsViews pointed out that New Zealand govt had helped repatriate the highest number from India already, Gunjan was critical of the way the govt had handled the situation.
“It seems like govt has conducted the rescue operation just to gain trust and reputation for the sake of coming elections… Criteria should be ‘No man behind’,” she commented.
“I know they are working hard to help everyone (and) we appreciate that…” says the Auckland-based partner of Ramandeep who is held up in Punjab.
“It’s not a mercy flight, people are paying ($5500) for themselves, only government will arrange,” she says.
Ramandeep is keen to be back with his partner. “I am worried as she’s still on postpartum stage. I don’t want her to do something to herself because of this frustration,” he told NewsViews.
Another frustrated permanent visa holder ‘Singh’ (first name withheld) who has a 4-years-old NZ-born son, comments: “India thinks we are NRI, but NZ thinks we are Indians…”
Another permanent resident, Shikha Sharma is currently stuck in Phagwara (Punjab). She came to India on 4 March and was to return on 20 March.
“We are really thankful to NZ govt to arrange 3 repartition flights for us, but we think that was not enough,” she told NewsViews.
Sounding hopeful, Shikha says: “Now we just urging Peter Winston and Jacinda Ardern to help us out so we can get back to our home…we have strong hopes on our government that they will help us out in this tough time.”