Passengers at a cafe wait for their flight to Auckland, New Zeland. AP
Molly Codyre, The Independent
Last week, Charlotte Bellis wrote an article for the NZ Herald outlining her experience with New Zealand’s system of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ). The former Al Jazeera journalist, who received global recognition last year for her stern questioning of the Taliban about their treatment of women and girls, was now, ironically, turning to Afghanistan for refuge when her homeland wouldn’t let her in.
Bellis is pregnant. She is also not married to her partner. This means she had to resign from Al Jazeera and leave Qatar where it is illegal to be unmarried and pregnant. With her home country effectively closed and facing imprisonment in her country of work, Bellis turned to Afghanistan.
She reached out to Taliban contacts to explain her situation; she was pregnant and unmarried, would that be a problem if she entered the country? Their response: “No, we’re happy for you.”
By contrast, Bellis’s application for an emergency spot in MIQ — one that featured 59 supporting documents — was swiftly denied. Her story is not unique, nor is it uncommon, but it is important for the noise it has created, and the attention it has drawn to an issue Kiwis have been yelling about for the better part of 18 months: New Zealand is closed.
The human rights of Kiwi citizens like me living abroad are being directly contravened. We are essentially stateless. And, arguably most importantly, our government does not seem to care.
That noise obviously worked. Last night, for the second time in three months, I cried tears of relief. Once again the government announced a loosening of the border policy — notably, the implementation of 10 days of home isolation, rather than the enforced hotel stay that has been in place until now. As of 13 March, I will no longer have to enter a lottery to go home.
I’m approaching it all with a large dose of scepticism, aware that the rug could be pulled out from under us again. The gratitude at the possibility of being able to return home is overwhelming, but I won’t be forgetting the past two years anytime soon.
I am worried about the division this has caused at home and the toxic nationalism that has been allowed to take hold as the country has remained isolated and cut off from the world for the better part of 24 months.
I have always been so proud to be a Kiwi. Living away from home sometimes physically hurts, but I also love my life overseas. It’s like being in the middle of a tug of war, the rope growing more taut with each month that I don’t go home.
New Zealand is a haven. It is small, beautiful and blissfully removed from the rest of the world — both literally and figuratively. I could have had a very easy life there, but that isn’t what I wanted for myself. And so, like many Kiwis, I spread my wings and travelled far, far away, all the while knowing that eventually I’ll come ricocheting back home.
I spent much of the pandemic looking back at my country with pride, grateful to know I had made the right choice in voting for Jacinda Adern’s Labour Party as they managed the pandemic with caution and compassion. As time ticked on, however, and the borders failed to reopen, I realised that this “success” was occurring at the expense of almost a million citizens.
A million people just like me. Apparently that compassion didn’t extend to us.I have written a few articles for this paper on the topic of MIQ and a few more for the NZ Herald. I have tried to tell the stories of people in situations like Bellis’s — or worse. People who weren’t able to reunite with their family after the death of a loved one; who were facing illegally remaining in a country without a job, without support or a roof over their heads, and still refused entry to their home country. I’ve tried to talk about my own distress and the pain MIQ has caused. I’ve tried to interact with naysayers on Twitter, despite knowing it’s a losing battle.
The original purpose of the MIQ system was to allow New Zealand the time to prepare for the inevitable arrival of Covid-19. Two years on, ICU capacity is still extraordinarily low at just four beds per 100,000 people.
I am thankful the government has realised it is no longer acceptable to keep families apart, but I’m worried about how tenuous my citizenship feels. I’ve been told by many people in NZ that citizenship is something that needs to be earned; by staying put, paying taxes and not turning your back on the “team”.
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