Grounded Kiwis has raised over $180,000 to fund the legal costs required to sue the New Zealand government for stopping citizens from returning home.
Founder and lawyer Alexandra Birt is calling for the Covid travel system to be examined. “We are alleging the way they have operated the system amounts to a breach of the bill of rights.”
Covid Zero policies have left New Zealand citizens locked out of their own country for over two years in what is claimed to be a violation of the nation’s international human rights responsibilities.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – well known for having some of the world’s toughest Covid health mandates – has been enforcing a hotel quarantine system that keeps citizens out of the country because of extreme restrictions on available rooms.
Despite having one of the highest double-vaccinated populations in the world and only a handful of active Covid cases in hospital, there is no end in sight for punitive restrictions on travel that have kept families isolated and stranded New Zealanders all over the world. For all intents and purposes, New Zealand is the last country on earth pursuing ‘Covid Zero’.
Returning citizens have to apply for a place in what’s called ‘Managed Isolation and Quarantine’ (which is similar to Australia’s hotel quarantine system) with only a very small amount of places available. These places are decided via a lottery system and without proof that you have access to hotel quarantine, citizens cannot book flights back to their country. 40% of rooms are released followed by batches that change in quantity depending on current health orders.
This has dropped to zero with the emergence of Omicron, essentially rendering New Zealand citizens stateless.
‘Travellers are legally required to have a voucher confirming their place in managed isolation before boarding their flight [to New Zealand]. There are only a small number of exceptions to this requirement (e.g. diplomats).’
One hopeful traveller referred to this process as, ‘The Hunger Games’.
Currently, the website is followed by a note that says, ‘Securing a voucher does not give you entry permission to New Zealand. The border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. You will need to met New Zealand’s border requirements and hold a New Zealand passport or valid visa to be able to travel to New Zealand.’
Since Omicron has entered New Zealand, there are now no places available – locking the door in New Zealanders trying to get home. This is not expected to change any time soon, with people wondering if they will ever be able to return.
Previously, stranded New Zealanders have had to wait for a website to refresh and open up a handful of quarantine placements. The ‘first-in, first-served lottery’ has proved to be a nightmare for people who just want to return to their own properties.
A few hundred emergency places are still available, but these end up allocated to foreign sports teams and other government-endorsed travellers.
Is it legal for the Ardern government to deny New Zealanders the right to return home? That is the question that the legal challenge hopes to answer.
If nothing else, it is about finding a way for people to return to their homes and families.
“Many Kiwis have simply turned a blind eye because it doesn’t affect them, or worse, have decided the best response is to lash out on social media against their fellow Kiwis,” said Alexandra Birt.