New Zealand government must facilitate return of Kiwi Indians
Sydney, Australia, May 14, 2021
When my sister-in-law flew into Hyderabad in late January (2021) to hold her dying mother’s hand, daily new cases of Covid-19 in India were tracking at around 14,000, which might seem dramatic from an Antipodean safe haven but, when compared to the 35,000 new daily cases being recorded in the UK at the time, it was not so astonishing for a country of 1.4 billion.
Like most of us, Lakshmi had no idea that Indian Covid cases would skyrocket.
When she started trying to return to New Zealand in March, there were 16,000 new daily cases. This week, as new cases stood at 350,000 she was still trying to leave.
Matching flight with MIQ
The issue for New Zealanders trying to return from India is twofold: trying to get a flight home is almost impossible. And if you are lucky enough to get one, securing a slot in MIQ that marries with your flight is often not possible.
Last weekend, after weeks of searching, Lakshmi found a flight home via Qatar.
Her issue then became one of securing a place in quarantine. A sleepless night of refreshing her browser eventually yielded a spot but was soon met with an officious response with a subject heading in bold caps: ‘India Suspension of Travel – Voucher Holders.’
Apparently, because she was in a high-risk country, she was deemed as ‘not eligible for travel at this time.’ Her MIQ voucher would expire in 48 hours, unless she responded to the email –“with evidence that you do meet the criterial for travelling.”
Persistence is painful but pays
We were confounded. New Zealand had lifted its travel ban on Indians; yet the MIQ system suggested that Lakshmi was not welcome home. After much scrambling and tenacious enquiry, it was established an email from her confirming that she had a flight (despite having already proved this in her initial booking, along with supplying passport details) and that she had secured her MIQ slot. It is easy to imagine though how others who received this email would have given up.
Lakshmi is lucky. As I write this, she is somewhere in the airspace between Doha and Auckland. But, as Australia this week budgeted for more than 100 repatriation flights for its stranded citizens, hundreds of Kiwis remain stuck in India.
These are not people who jetted across to have their photo taken in front of the Taj Mahal. Many, like Lakshmi, went to fulfil family commitments. Nor are they looking for a handout. They are willing to draw on all available funds to secure a flight to the place they now call home.
Paucity of flights
As the death toll from Covid surpassed the quarter of a million mark this week, Kiwis in India are finding it increasingly difficult to get home. There is a paucity of flights and those on offer are often cancelled at short notice. Even if a flight proceeds, it often leaves from the hotspots of Delhi or Mumbai, thus putting travellers from less vulnerable areas at grave risk.
And if they are lucky enough to get a ticket to New Zealand, navigating a seemingly unhospitable MIQ system remains a sticking point.
The New Zealand government needs to help these vulnerable citizens at a desperate time by either working with airlines to secure commercial flights or underwriting repatriation flights. It also needs guarantee MIQ spots to citizens in India when they are able to secure passage home. These measures need not be expensive, they just require willingness and time.
New Zealanders in India are desperate to return to home. If the government feels that its obligations extend to protecting its most vulnerable citizens, it must act with urgency.
Jocelyn Prasad is a New Zealand born Indian of Fijian descent. She lives in Sydney, where she is a writer and media adviser.