Thousands of migrant workers living and working in New Zealand have been trapped abroad since borders closed in March. Unable to return to their jobs and lives, many face severe financial hardship and some have been separated from their spouses and other family members.
The Labor-led government’s cruel treatment of migrant workers exposes media propaganda in New Zealand and internationally portrays Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as an embodiment of kindness and compassion. In fact, Labor and its former coalition partner, far-right nationalist NZ First, have sought to scapegoat migrants for the worsening social crisis.
Thousands of migrants still in New Zealand, who lost their jobs due to the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, have been denied access to unemployment benefits. Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, leader of NZ First, told them to “go home” because the system would not support them, even though the government provided tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to businesses.
Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 people who have applied for residency face delays of a year or more due to Immigration New Zealand’s willful delay in visa processing. Many people now fear they may not be allowed to stay in the country.
In the run-up to the October 17 elections, which saw the Labor Party return to power by a majority of the vote, the major parties and the media remained mum about the plight of the migrants. Immigration policy was not discussed in the four televised debates between Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins.
As a sign of the continuing brutal treatment of migrants, New Zealand Herald reported on 28 October that Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi had refused a residence permit for Sanaul Elahi, who was injured during the fascist terrorist attack in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. Despite a recommendation from the ministry’s own Immigration and Protection Court that Elahi and his family should be allowed to live in rural. Elahi originally moved to New Zealand in 2015 and has worked as a halal butcher.
A plea recently submitted to the New Zealand parliament urging the government to “allow migrants on current New Zealand visas who are trapped abroad to re-enter the country, or extend their visas.”
It read: “Thousands of us are usually residents and spend nearly a year away from our homes, jobs and in some cases our spouses and children. New Zealand is our home. Our lives are there, and so are our families, jobs, careers, homes, and friends. Please let the hardworking go home. It’s been a long time without access to our stuff. “The petition so far has about 1,700 signatures.
Migrants also hold demonstrations, both in New Zealand and internationally, against the Ardern government’s policies. On Tuesday, the migrants will do it general meeting in New Delhi to demand that “all workers who normally stay in New Zealand, be allowed to return as citizens.”
NZ residents are allowed to return and must spend two weeks in hotels that have been reused as quarantine facilities.
That World Socialist Website recently spoke with Belu, who has lived in New Zealand for six years. She and her husband, as well as their baby, had traveled to the family’s home in Argentina to get married as New Zealand closed its borders. Belu has been separated from her husband, who is from India and unable to stay in Argentina due to visa regulations.
“We started our life, our family was in New Zealand and then without notification, we couldn’t go home,” he said. “It is very difficult because in this country or in India we have to start over from scratch … Right now there is a crisis, we have no homes, we have no property, we have nothing.” The couple still pay $ 600 a week in rent for their home in New Zealand, and have received assistance from their employer thanks to the government’s temporary salary subsidy scheme, until it runs out in September.
Belu believes the government “doesn’t want to lose votes. If they said: all immigrants can come back, all the Kiwis who don’t want immigrants or don’t know the situation will not vote for them. I don’t understand why the media never asks [the government] about that. That’s a very big thing. We are thousands, with our families. “
She said her employers were “desperate” because “they saw the work there to be done and no one was doing it. So why if they need me so badly I can’t come back? “He explained that he was very stressed.” I haven’t slept eight hours in the last eight months. Thank God my mom is with me and my baby, otherwise I don’t know how anyone else does it. “
WSWS also spoke with Swarna, who is currently stuck in India, unable to return to his home in Auckland. Like many others, he had been given a large sum of money by his parents to study and work in New Zealand, which he had paid through remittances. “Both of my parents are retired now, they can’t afford the money,” he said. “Every time the bank will start sending me letters. They can take my house, the only house I have in India. “
Swarna had been in New Zealand for two years when the pandemic hit; he has worked as a security guard and in a public hospital, sometimes up to 72 hours a week. “[Migrant workers] not eating properly, we don’t sleep well, we just work like dogs… we just work, work, work, ”he explained.
He had to return to India to visit his mother, who was seriously ill, before NZ closed its borders in March. Swarna had applied for exemption from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to return to New Zealand, but was refused without explanation.
Swarna described the government’s “exemption” criteria – which should allow some migrants to return – as “absurd” as most were refused, despite being legally entitled to reside in New Zealand.
He said: “Last night my life just changed and it turned really bad. I have nothing here because I live in New Zealand. My parents were depressed, my mother cried saying: you should not come. I honestly wanted to see Jacinda Ardern in person. I’m so mad at him. I didn’t do anything wrong. He is a person who, in the name of COVID, is in the name of the election. “
Swarna explained, there are still many other people who have experienced a similar situation. “We are not the ones carrying COVID… we are the ones who are punished. I know a boy who tried to commit suicide a few months ago. He ate so many sleeping pills, he was rushed to the hospital. “Swarna urged the New Zealand government:” Allow eligible people to enter. Let them start their life! [Ardern] just stopped our lives, he controlled our lives for eight months. “