Stranded Kiwis in Australia frustrated over border closure

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(RNZ Photo by Nate McKinnon)

Gill Bonnett
Wellington, January 7, 2022

New Zealanders in Australia say that their country has turned its back on them following another setback in return travel plans.

But the government says that it is working with them and the airlines, but it could not include them in a release of 1250 Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) rooms for March and April on January 6, 2022. MIQ authorities say no ‘Red’ trans-Tasman flights: those needing MIQ are scheduled for those months.

Grounded Kiwis feel abandoned

Grounded Kiwis, which represents New Zealanders overseas, said uncertainty over whether quarantine-free travel would restart next month had left people with no support and no answers on when they would see loved ones.

“There are half a million New Zealanders in Australia, and many of them are still connected with their families in New Zealand with next of kin, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, and so on. I would expect that a fairly large number of them will be desperate to come back, and similarly, there would be hundreds of thousands of Kiwis – parents and grandparents who want to come to Australia and see their children and grandchildren, some for the first time,” Group Spokesman Martin Newell said.

He said that people who want to travel across the border, are just desperate – the stories are heart-breaking, the mental toll that is taking on a lot of Kiwis is really tough.

“Many of them are getting very limited assistance. A lot of people need to get home for various reasons. They are heartbroken that their country had turned its back on them,” Mr Newell, who works in Melbourne after relocating from Hong Kong, said.

According to him, places such as Western Australia were virtually Covid-free.

“Yet pensioners there have been living in caravans for the past five and a half months, unable to return to New Zealand. They should be able to come home and hold on to their pension. We are not asking to throw open the borders. We are saying that the approach to the border needs to be more nuanced, more dynamic. There needs to be better communication, regularly reviewed,” he said.

No Trans-Tasman flights

To enter yesterday’s lobby, travellers would have to fly to Singapore or Dubai first, he said, and the fact that airlines were not running any red flights in March and April between Australia and New Zealand showed the level of uncertainty that airlines were also experiencing.

Mr Newell said that social media abuse is worse.

“During this pandemic, the language has been about the ‘Team of five million,’ very focused on those in New Zealand. I think an unintended consequence of that rhetoric has created a hyper-partisan view from Kiwis in New Zealand viewing everyone outside as a threat. The notion that Kiwis in New Zealand have done the Mahi. But what about people who have lived in London over last Christmas and New Year? They had nowhere to go, they had to hunker down. And what about people who left New Zealand in April last year to bury three generations of their family in India?” he asked.

Air New Zealand on Green flights

Air New Zealand said in a statement that it was working on the assumption that ‘Green flights,’ passengers arriving in which do not need MIQ, would restart at the end of February.

“Our hearts go out to customers who are trying to return home to New Zealand and face continued uncertainty, particularly over this holiday period. We are doing everything we can to get them home. The New Zealand government has signalled that MIQ-free travel for New Zealanders travelling from Australia is expected to resume at the end of February, and in response to this we are operating a schedule of green flights from Australia in March and April,” the Spokesperson said.

“We are awaiting further direction from the government. If a decision is made to extend the requirement for travellers from Australia to enter MIQ beyond the end of February, then we will update our schedule accordingly and ensure there are red flights available for customers to return,” the Spokesperson added.

MIQ authorities said they were working with airlines in relation to schedules and future room releases as they dealt with the fall-out from the Omicron variant.

“MIQ is working to facilitate the return to New Zealand of those who travelled to Australia and expected to be able to return home and self-isolate,” said associate deputy secretary Andrew Milne.

“All people arriving in MIQ are now required to spend 10 days in a facility, which has had a significant impact on capacity across the MIQ system for January and February. In addition, there are a number of groups that now need to be accommodated in MIQ in these months.

“Given the complexity of managing the Omicron and Delta variants, and facilitating the return of some Australian travellers, MIQ needs to closely monitor our operating capacity. For this reason, the latest lobby is smaller than usual and is focused on March and April.”

He asked those with MIQ vouchers they no longer need to cancel so their spot can be reallocated.

The MIQ focus is on the following:

People who travelled to Australia following the government’s announcement on November 24, 2021 and before December 22, 2021, with return tickets to New Zealand from January 17, 2022 onwards did not have a MIQ voucher as they had expected to self-isolate on return.

People due to travel from Australia between January 17m 2022 and late February 2022 who do hold a voucher but are affected by flight cancellations. We are working with airlines and those people to reschedule their vouchers to match up with rescheduled flights.

Those travelling from Australia who held a MIQ voucher before the end of February who proactively cancelled it thinking that they will not need it as they would be able to self-isolate from January 17, 2022.

MIQ and airlines are contacting those travellers to make arrangements for them to enter MIQ if they wish to return before February.

ACT Leader’s opinion

ACT Leader David Seymour said that the government should have already been in touch with airlines to enable New Zealanders to try for MIQ rooms yesterday (January 6, 2022).

“They must have known these flights would not be available weeks ago. Why they could not take New Zealanders into their confidence and treat us all like adults is a real mystery. Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins owe Kiwis stuck in Australia an apology for leaving them stranded with no flights for today’s (Thursday) MIQ lottery. Yes, Covid is hard but Labour are making it much harder than it needs to be. Families have been separated by border closures, children have missed the funerals of their parents, husbands and wives have been kept apart and businesses cannot get staff,” he said.

According to him, “it makes no sense that DJs can come and go but New Zealanders cannot come home at all. Chris Hipkins told the country that those DJs got MIQ spots abandoned by those who thought they could come home and self-isolate from mid-January. I cannot imagine how angry they will be now since they cannot get back in through MIQ either,” Mr Seymour said.

Gill Bonnett is Immigration Reporter at Radio New Zealand. The above story and picture have been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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