How it feels to be on the outside looking in. (Photo: Getty Images)
How it feels to be on the outside looking in. (Photo: Getty Images)

OPINIONSocietyAugust 3, 2020

A simple request from those of us shut out by managed isolation fees: Be kind

How it feels to be on the outside looking in. (Photo: Getty Images)
How it feels to be on the outside looking in. (Photo: Getty Images)

People like me already don’t know when we will see ‘home’ again, thanks to the forthcoming border fees, writes Jai Breitnauer. We don’t need to be judged for it too.

About eight weeks ago we got a message we had been dreading – my father-in-law was in hospital having been in a motorbike crash. Of course, everyone fears hearing a loved one is sick or injured, but this situation was complicated by the fact he was behind a closed border in Christchurch, and we were in lockdown UK.

Luckily, the crash wasn’t serious, and there was no need for us to rush to Aotearoa. And thank god quite frankly, because apart from the inflated costs and uncertainty involved in travel, the 14 days of managed isolation would mean no one was seeing anyone quickly. It felt like we had got off lightly, but also that a planned trip home would be a good idea. Then we got hit with the news about quarantine charges.

Now before you all start getting out your tiny violins I’m not looking for your sympathy. I happen to agree both with the managed isolation programme and the idea of charges to help recoup the cost. There is nothing like sitting in Boris’ ivory dungeon, among the memories of the 46,000 Britons who have died from the poorly managed Covid crisis, to see the New Zealand government’s handling of the pandemic for exactly what it is: bloody brilliant.

However, I would like some empathy. I’ve seen countless shitty comments online about how all New Zealand expats are loaded, have chosen not to “contribute” to New Zealand, and how they deserve to pay if they want a “free holiday” in a government hotel before they see their family.

Come on, man. Back it the fuck up.

When we left New Zealand last year it wasn’t to seek out a better life, or because one of us had accepted a sweet promotion in the London office. It was for family reasons. I am a resident of New Zealand and my husband and kids are Kiwis, but my British parents still live in the UK, as does my husband’s mother. A pressing family health issue made us consider our position and chose to head north quickly, without much consideration of the financial blowback. We gave away most of what we owned, including our furniture, put some other stuff in storage and boarded the plane.

Back in the UK we have struggled to find jobs in a gig economy flooded with young talent ready to undercut experience, and one of our children with additional needs is yet to access a school place. By the time Covid hit we were already on our ass bones – and yes, my NZ tax bill for last year didn’t help, let alone the ACC contribution I paid before I left. We haven’t been eligible for Covid-related government support either. So, to hear someone telling me I must be loaded, I don’t contribute and I deserve to pay, well that is pretty hard on my ears.

We are not the only people in this situation. We are not the exception that proves the rule. I’ve heard countless heartbreaking stories of New Zealanders isolated from family because of coronavirus measures, and the new charges will just compound those feelings of separation. Managed isolation felt like the door was still ajar, but charges have slammed it firmly shut in our faces.

A former Kiwi colleague of mine, Sharon Brown, is literally on a plane right now heading back to Aotearoa to see her sick mother. Like my husband, Sharon met her British partner while on her big O.E. She has lived in the UK for the last decade but still calls New Zealand home, and that is where her parents live.

“When I found out three weeks ago that my mum’s cancer has returned and things are looking serious, I knew I needed to go. It’s a natural instinct,” she told me from the airport. However, Sharon found navigating travel in our current climate stressful and expensive.

“Flight prices have skyrocketed and I had to pay double to get my Kiwi passport renewed quickly,” she explains. Sharon is also worried about the mental pressure of sitting in a hotel room alone while her mum’s health situation becomes more urgent.

“I’ll be going through this before any charges are brought in, but I feel isolation should just be treated as another step after going through immigration and customs at the airport,” says Sharon.

“If payments are going to be introduced there needs to be robust exemptions that allow free isolation for Kiwis returning home for a compassionate visit.”

A hotel staff worker sanitises the outside of Auckland’s Stamford Plaza on July 10, 2020 (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Of course the issue of charges doesn’t just affect Kiwis abroad, but also immigrants living in NZ. A friend of mine from Brazil, Juliana, is desperate to see her mother back home.

“My mum got cancer during lockdown here. She had surgery, but I can’t go and see her,” says Juliana, who is married to a New Zealander. “She is doing chemo now, and it’s so hard not to be able to help my brother taking her to appointments.”

When the charges were announced, Juliana’s heart sank because it meant if she left to see her mother, she would have to pay to come home to her family.

“It’s not fair, because everyone who entered New Zealand until now got it for free. I work here, pay my taxes and now this is making it even harder for me to go and see and support my family.”

Sharon feels this issue is as divisive as the Springbok tour, and is very apprehensive about going home, an emotion she never thought she would feel.

“When I am released – virus-free – in two weeks do I even tell people I’ve travelled? My hybrid accent might give me away, and my British driving licence (transferred from New Zealand) will stand out when I pay to hire a car for my stay,” she says.

“Things are bad enough right now – my UK family and I will miss each other as much as my Kiwi family will be glad to have me home – without adding hate and vitriol into the mix. Just be kind and please recognise that the vast majority of us are coming home for good reasons, will abide by the rules and be grateful to be back.”

Right now, it is hard to be so far away from the people you love and the place you call home. We get it, tough choices had to be made but please, dear keyboard warrior, don’t compound our stress. Chur bro.

Keep going!