COMMENTARY: Official excuses are pathetic: It’s time Tongan authorities brought RSE workers back home

COMMENTARY Tongan authorities’ excuses for their lack of flights taking RSE workers home because there were other passengers stuck in New Zealand and Australia and they were all urgent cases are pathetic.

Air New Zealand

This evening’s news that RSE workers might not get home until next year makes it even worse.

Ministry of Internal Affairs chief executive Dr Fotu Fisi’iahi told Radio New Zealand the government was committed to bringing home the RSE workers, but only when it was safe.

Dr Fisi’iahi  said there were more Tongan citizens stranded in New Zealand and Australia than RSE workers and both groups were urgent.

RSE scheme liaison Sēfita Hao’uli has asked Tonga’s newly elected MPs to charter an aeroplane for the RSE workers.

Dr Fisi’iahi  said workers could  negotiate their own repatriation flight, but the government would have nothing to do with it.

Government mission

The authorities should not compare the RSE workers with other Tonga citizens stranded  in New Zealand and Australia. Most of these non-RSE workers did not arrive in these countries on government employment missions. These people mostly came on visitors’ visas and have families and relatives they can stay with during the lockdown.

The RSE workers came through a government mission in late 2019 and have been stuck here ever since. The government should give them special treatment in terms of repatriation. There should have been chartered flights for RSE workers only a long time ago. They were in New Zealand and Australia for long contracts and Covids-19 has left them stranded here for far too long. The RSE workers should have been able to expect that the Tongan government would get them home, but it failed to do this.

Challenging social circumstances

The RSE workers in New Zealand and Australia are now in very challenging social circumstances which have included serious offences such as rape and alleged extra-marital affairs which have led to many family separations. A Tongan RSE employee Hiko Lynch was murdered in New Zealand in June this year in a knifing incident after he hadn’t been able to return home between seasons because of Tonga’s lack of repatriation flights.

Of all these nightmares, the government has these RSE workers’ blood on its hands.

It is important for the government to note that the Tongans who became stuck in New Zealand and Australia other than the RSE workers were fine. There appear to be no reports of serious offending from them.

There have been claims that concerns over Tonga’s handling of Covid 19 MIQs and processing of repatriates are exaggerated. There is now a vaccination for the virus plus the 21-day quarantining in MIQs and these should help ease the restriction so that the RSE workers can be returned to Tonga as soon as possible.

Hypocritical 

Tonga’s position in handling the repatriation flights also appeared to be hypocritical when compared with other countries’ actions.

In May this year Air Vanuatu described the Tonga government’s late cancellation of a group of stranded Tongans to fly from Port Vila to Tonga as “cruel.”

The complaints came after the Tongan authorities confirmed to Air Vanuatu that the passengers could travel to Tonga on a chartered flight. The passengers processed their flight tickets and all necessary costs only to be informed a day before their departure that the Tongan government had changed their mind and did not want them to join the special flight.

Chinese repatriates 

However, in August an Air Vanuatu flight arrived in Tonga with 14 Chinese workers after a request from the Chinese embassy to bring them to the kingdom. The government said the passengers came to Tonga to work on His Majesty’s Armed Forces’ projects.

It justified the flight by saying Vanuatu was safe and there were no reports of Covid cases there. But why it did not allow the Tongan stranded passengers who wanted to return to the kingdom in May as at the time Vanuatu was Covid free?

This also occurred in the same period that New Zealand reported no Covid cases and lifted its first lockdown on June 8. When New Zealand was declared safe the Tongan government should have organised special repatriation flights just for the RSE workers.

Samoa sets an example

They should certainly have done this after the New Zealand government pushed for it to return its RSE employees. If Tonga’s main concern was because of the limited MIQs, Samoa and some other Pacific countries repatriated their RSE workers and quarantined them just in community halls and no Covid cases were found. Tonga should have learned a lesson from this and followed their example.

This situation has been going on for far too long. Last year the CEO of Tonga’s Ministry of Health, Dr Siale Akauola expressed frustration at the lack of assistance in repatriating citizens stranded abroad.

At the time he made the comments there were more than 2800 people registered with the Tongan government for repatriation, with 1500 in New Zealand, 500 in Australia and the remainder in other countries, including India.

RSE workers provide much needed income for their families and contribute to the Tongan economy. They also bring back much needed skills they can apply at home.

However, they have been let down by the government.  It is time the Tongan authorities acted decisively and found a way to bring them home.

————–FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA NOUNOU —————-

Ne lahi pe taimi ke fai mo fakafoki ai ‘a e kau ngāue toli faka’angataha ‘i ha ngaahi puna makehe pe ma’a kinautolu ‘oua toe kau ai ha pāsese kehe he kei hao ‘a Nu’u Sila ni ‘osi ‘ene ‘uluaki loka fakafeituu’ ka na’e ‘ikai sio pehē ‘a e pule’anga Tonga’. Ko e pehē ko ē ‘e ‘ikai lava ke nau fakafoki pe ‘a e kau toli’ ta’e’oange mo e kakai tukuvakā kehe ‘i muli ni’ ko e fo’i ‘uhinga ia’ oku vaivai. He ko e kakai ‘ikai toli ne ‘ikai ‘omi kinautolu ia ‘e he pule’anga’ pea ko ‘enau tu’uvakaa’ ‘oku ala faingamālie pe honau ngaahi fāmili ne nau omi ki ai’ ke nau pine ai. Ko e kau toli’ ne tonu ke tokanga’i makehe he ne fuoloa ‘enau mavahe mei honau ngaahi fāmili ‘o ‘omi ‘e he pule’anga’ pea ko e ngafa ia ‘o e pule’anga ke fakafoki fakavave’i kinautolu he ngaahi tu’unga peheni’. Kuo fakamo’oni’i ‘a e hoko ‘a e ngaahi palopalema lahi fakasōsiale kia kinautolu ‘o kau ai ‘a e faihia ‘oku lolotonga ngāue pōpula ai ha ni’ihi tu’unga he hia hangē tohotoho pea a’u ki he māvae ‘o takitahi ma’ana ‘a e ngaahi fāmili lahi pea fakapoongi foki he ta’u ni ‘a e tokotaha ‘i Nu’u Sila’ ni ne fihia heni ‘ikai ha vaka ke fai mo foki ai. ‘Oku ‘ikai tonu ke fanofano e pule’anga’ ia mei he ngaahi faingata’a ko eni’ he ko ia ne ne ‘omi kinautolu’. ‘Oku hā mai foki hangē ‘oku ‘ikai ma’a ‘a e founga ‘a Tonga’. Ne ta’ofi fakafokifā e kau pāsese mei Vanuatu ‘i Me ke ‘oua na’a nau folau ki Tonga hili ia ‘enau mole hono totongi ‘enau tikite’ ko hono ‘uluaki tala mei Tonga ke nau folau ange. Kae ‘i ‘Aokosi pe kuo tu’uta ‘i Tonga ia ha vakapuna mo e kau Siaina ko e ‘oatu mei Vanuatu ke ō fai e ngāue ‘a e Kau Tau Malu’i ‘a ‘Ene ‘Afio’. Pea ko e fakatonuhia ne ‘omi mei he pule’anga’ ko e pehē ne nau ‘osi sivi kolonitini pea ne kei hao pe ‘a Vanuatu he taimi ko ia’ ‘ikai ha Koviti ai. Ka na’e kei hao pe ‘a Vanuatu ‘i Mē te’eki ai ha Koviti ai kae ta’ofi e folau atu ia ‘a e kau Tonga ko ia’. Pea ko e vaha’a taimi tatau ne kei hao pe mo Nu’u Sila ‘ikai ha Koviti ai. Ko ‘eni kuo ma’u ‘a e faito’o ki he Koviti pea kuo lahi e huhu malu’i ‘a Tonga’. Ne toe mahino ‘i he keisi ko ‘eni ne ma’u ‘i Tonga fakamuimui’ ‘oku lava pe ‘o fakamavahe’i ‘a e keisi ko ia kei taimi ‘o ‘ikai ha uesia ki he komiunitii’. Kuo taimi ke ngāue fakamaatoato ki heni ‘a Tonga ke fakafoki atu ‘a e kau ngāue toli’ he ‘oku fakautututu ‘enau palopalema’ heni’ taimi tatau ko e pa’anga lahi ‘oku hu atu ki Tonga he’enau ngāue’ ‘o tokoni ki he ‘ekonōmia fakalukufua ‘a e fonua’.

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