Despite South African borders having reopened on 1 October, and the resumption of scheduled flights by airlines, such as Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways, there are still South African families who are struggling to be reunited.
Lack of space in New Zealand quarantine facilities
South African immigrant Henco de Beer appeared on New Zealand national television on 22 October, opening up about the torment he and his family have been experiencing due to their lengthy separation caused by the lack of space in New Zealand’s quarantine facilities.
De Beer arrived in New Zealand in January 2020 to take up an offer of employment as a production team leader in Hamilton. His wife and children were booked to travel to New Zealand in March, but just hours before their scheduled departure, their flights were cancelled, resulting in a prolonged delay. This has led to the family being separated for 10 months.
“Those 20 hours have turned into practically 10 months,” De Beer said.
Struggle to get family across
De Beer moved to Hamilton, in New Zealand, with the expectation that his family would be joining him within a few weeks. His wife, Maryke, their five-year-old daughter, Emmabella, and their new-born son, Sion, were due to depart South Africa on 20 March, the same day that New Zealand closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just been a struggle to get them here,” he said.
During the 10 months there had been moments when De Beer felt that progress was being made and that he was on the verge of getting his wife and children to New Zealand, but these were short-lived victories.
“It’s like blow by blow. Every couple of months, we get a hint, we see somebody might be able to assist us and we jump on it and wait with great expectation,” De Beer said.
“You almost start packing your suitcases again — and then again, you’re back to square one.”
Unused spaces cause frustration
All New Zealand citizens and those with valid residence permits are able to enter the country while its borders remain closed. However, a mandatory 14-day quarantine period is required on arrival.
The state-managed isolation hotels offer just more than 6 000 beds per day for arriving passengers who need to undergo quarantine. Many immigrants in the same position have been struggling to travel to New Zealand because they are unable to secure space in the isolation hotels.
However, it was reported that there has been an average of 1 291 unused spaces per day which is the cause of frustration to immigrants, such as De Beer and his family.
According to a New Zealand government official, a number of beds have to be kept available for use in the event of an emergency evacuation or the occurrence of a natural disaster, which is why unused spaces cannot be offered to all foreign entrants.
Lengthy delays causing distress to families
De Beer explained how the 10-month separation had taken a toll on his relationship with his wife, his daughter who was due to start school in New Zealand, and his son who was born only four days before De Beer left South Africa in January.
“It is destroying myself and my wife’s relationship – especially for the children – and then for my son, the most important part, in the initial nine months of his life, I haven’t been there,” De Beer said on national television.
“It’s critical and it’s these moments that I miss, that you will not see again. It’s moments together as a family that’s gone,” he said.
Legally entitled to enter but unable to enter
Despite all necessary paperwork and documentation having been completed for all members of the family, De Beer’s wife and children remain stuck in South Africa, due to the lack of space for them to complete the obligatory 14-day quarantine.
“It’s not a case of new applications or a family that’s just thinking of coming over. Everything was in place, everything was granted. We’ve followed the systems. We’ve done the work,” De Beer stated.
Plea to New Zealand immigration department
De Beer pleaded on national television for New Zealand’s immigration department to assist his wife and children to enter the country in order for the family to reunite. He stated that the separation was causing major distress to all members of his family.
“Please give us a chance. Just look at the picture — we do deserve to be here,” De Beer pleaded.
De Beer stated on national television that there are several families who find themselves in this position. They have formed support groups and communicate via Facebook and on WhatsApp. They share common stories of despair due to many months of separation from their families.
He emphasised that all the families in the support groups had overcome many obstacles by securing employment offers and the legal right to live in New Zealand.
“Look at the bigger picture of these families, what they’ve gone through just to get to this stage, to get those visas, to get the employment,” De Beer said.