This story was originally appeared on TVNZ and is republished with permission
Louena Tupa hasn’t seen her kids in eight months, after finding herself stranded in Japan amid Covid-19 border closures.
“Being away from my kids for eight months has been very hard, and has been taking a toll on us emotionally,” she told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning.
Tupa has been living with her husband in Japan for almost a decade. Earlier this year, the couple decided to send their five-year-old daughter and one-year-old son to Tonga to keep them safe after a Covid-19 cluster broke out in their neighbourhood. Her husband accompanied her children.
Tupa, who was hosting family members in Japan on a trip they’d planned months before, stayed in Chiba. She planned to join her family a week later, but flight after flight she booked was cancelled.
Her final attempt was with Air New Zealand.
“They said everything was fine. By then, they had already announced that only citizens of New Zealand were allowed to come back,” she said.
“I was praying they would let me on for the sake of my kids. But they just said, ‘No sorry, you can’t get on the flight.’
“Ever since then, we’ve been trying.”
She begged the Tongan government to allow her on their repatriation flights, which began last month. But, they were only leaving from Brisbane and Auckland, meaning Tupa had to find a way to transit through either Australia or New Zealand.
She’s been in contact with officials the entire time she has been stranded in Japan.
Tupa is now one step away. After Breakfast discussed her case with the Tongan government, officials there changed their stance and confirmed Tupa will be included in the next repatriation flight to Tonga, set to leave Auckland next month.
Now she’s waiting to hear from Immigration New Zealand to allow her to transit through the country. The Tongan government is only allowing her to travel to Tonga if she completes quarantine in New Zealand.
Tupa is offering to pay for her own stay in managed isolation.
In the time she she’s been away from her children, she’s missed most of the first year of her son’s life.
“Them not being here, it’s just been really hard.”
But Tupa said she was “happy and grateful” her children were in Tonga, where they are safe and surrounded by loving family members.
Pacific Legal lawyer Richard Small said it is a story he’s heard “dozens of times over”.
“We have many clients in the same position. New Zealand is a gatekeeper for the Pacific,” he said.
“They say, of course, that Tonga is an independent government. But it’s New Zealand who really control the transit.”
That means people need to get approval from both New Zealand and Tongan governments, Small said.
He said, at times, it could be a “complete brick wall” for people trying to make it back to the Pacific.
“We’ve got people on antidepressants. We’ve got families at the end of their tether through this process in so many different ways.”
He urged authorities to look at the “human side to this story”, because there were “no real safety issues” if people were able to quarantine.