Heart-rending story of a much-needed skilled nurse’s family that was forced back

The temporary pause on the release and re-release of rooms on the Managed Isolation Allocation System by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment due to the current COVID-19 outbreak is impacting hundreds of people.

This includes those who want to come to New Zealand and those who need to leave and then return to New Zealand, even for pressing professional and family reasons. The suspension that came into effect on 23 August 2021, included cancelled vouchers that are normally automatically re-released back into the system and that no rooms will be available to book for a few days.

An Indian family is among many bearing the repercussions of this action. Swati (name changed on request), a registered nurse in New Zealand,  had all the plans to meet her husband and five-year-old daughter this month after a gap of two years, but things took an unexpected turn.

Swati’s husband Vikram, (name changed) and their daughter Priya (name changed) were recently approved Dependent of a Critical Health Worker visas on the basis of their relationship with Swati. The family was happy and were all set to lead a life of their dreams in New Zealand together.

"I was so happy that after a gap of two years, I will be finally meeting my husband and daughter I was counting each day leading to their arrival in New Zealand," says Swati, who hails from Ambala in India.

Vikram and Priya left India on August 14. They flew to Serbia as it is a requirement for anyone flying from a high-risk country like India to spend 14 days in a green zone country before they can board their flight to New Zealand.

Vikram and Priya’s ticket and travel arrangements, including booking tickets, were made by themselves. On August 14, Vikram and Priya reached Serbia, and after spending the mandatory 15 days in Serbia, they boarded their flight to Athens on August 31.

Unfortunately, when they landed in Athens and were ready to board their next flight to New Zealand, they were detained and sent to police custody for 24 hours.

"When we had booked the tickets for my husband and daughter, we had no idea that the flight from Athens to New Zealand had a stopover in Brisbane and an Australian transit visa is needed. As a layman how would we know since it was mentioned nowhere on the ticket? No one informed us and it was not mentioned anywhere.

“Had we known about this requirement, we would have surely got it sorted. And that is the reason that they were stopped from boarding their flight. My husband and daughter had the worst experience of their lives during those 24 hours. They got treated like criminals. They were not given food, water, and even my husband's phone was taken away. My daughter even fell terribly sick, which included high fever. My husband even requested to be sent back to India but no one was listening to them."

Following that, they were deported back to Serbia on September 1. But because of the MIQ pause, they will not be able to get another voucher even if they get their travel arrangements sorted.

“We tried contacting MIQ to help us as my husband and daughter were midway in Serbia. Since my husband and daughter were in a bad state, my sister-in-law flew to Serbia from India to be with them.

“I requested MIQ to do something for us, but nothing happened due to this pause. I even approached MP and National Party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford to help us in this helpless situation we are presently in.

“But everything was in vain. My husband and daughter finally decided to return to India after trying everything. They will be departed Serbia on September 14. I hope no other family has to go through what we have gone through. I don't know when I will meet my family now."

National Party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford says, “The situation of Swati and her family pains me. My office escalated her case with MIQ which was declined. We then wrote directly to Minister Hipkins to ask him to intervene, which he declined to do.

“We made another plea to MIQ but no positive results were achieved there. I am frustrated that there is no compassion and flexibility in the MIQ system for the family of a much-needed nurse who through no fault of their own found themselves unable to make their original flight to NZ.”