The Forgotten of NZ group formed in March in response to the challenges around government border control rules faced by unvaccinated citizens, permanent residents and residents.
On 18 March 2022, the NZ government amended border rules to allow unvaccinated NZ citizens to return to the country without the need for Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ). The new rule did not mention permanent residents or residents.
At that time, MIQ vouchers were cancelled, leaving some unvaccinated permanent residents and residents effectively locked out of NZ. With the MIQ option no longer available, this group are not permitted to re-enter the country.
Concurrently, permanent residents and residents located in NZ are effectively locked in, because leaving the country would be to depart without any assurance they’d be allowed to return home.
The group has grown rapidly in just a few weeks to number more than 520 members, and many have heartbreaking stories of displacement and separation.
Permanent resident Holly Atkinson’s choice not to take the Pfizer jabs meant she lost her job in healthcare when the industry was mandated. Holly, who has lived in NZ off and on since the age of 9, managed to get hired in an unrelated field. She and her husband Fergus, who is also unvaccinated, decided to take a trip to see family in her birthplace South Africa before the new position start date of 4 April. As a NZ citizen, Fergus is allowed to return, but Holly may not. While her new employer has agreed to extend her start date out to 16 May, Holly is faced with an anxious wait in South Africa to see if she’ll be allowed to return home in time. With her job at risk, the couple may now lose their home if they’re unable to pay the mortgage without Holly’s income.
46 year-old Norwegian-born Karianne Wills has been a permanent resident in NZ for 26 years, and the only reason she never applied for citizenship was because Norway would not allow dual citizenship until recently. Together with her Kiwi husband, Graham, Karianne has raised three sons to adulthood and operated several sheep and beef farms in the King Country. The couple employ several people, and Karianne previously worked as a registered nurse for ten years. Karianne and Graham each took a single dose of Pfizer vaccine, and then contracted covid, both of which they recovered from with no side effects. “We do not see any reason for getting any further vaccines, and we do not wish to.” The couple want to visit their eldest son in France as well as family in Norway, but right now only Graham would be allowed to return home to NZ if the couple leaves and tries to return.
The Forgotten of NZ group has engaged a lawyer, submitted a letter of appeal to the Human Rights Commission, and is petitioning the government to rectify the situation which they point out constitutes discrimination.
The group wants to know – if unvaccinated citizens and refugees are allowed across the border without proof of vaccination or MIQ, why and on what health grounds are unvaccinated permanent residents and residents not afforded the same rights?
A spokesperson for the group said, “While the media may present the story of ‘New Zealanders being welcomed home’ or ‘New Zealand is opening to tourists’, the reality for ‘the forgotten’ is very different. The Forgotten of NZ has a growing number of stories of those locked out of their New Zealand homes and lives, and those effectively being held captive, or locked in New Zealand because of their medical choices and residency status. Even MIQ is no longer an option for this group.“
The Forgotten of NZ considers the restriction of free movement on the basis of choosing not to undergo a medical treatment to be a violation of human rights, and a restriction which may have been temporarily justified on the basis of a wider public good to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community, but whose position is no longer supported.
The Omicron variant is widely circulating in the community as opposed to being largely prevalent at the border, the public’s risk of being infected by an unvaccinated person is no longer significantly different to being infected by a vaccinated individual, and the small number of unvaccinated permanent residents or residents likely to return would place a minuscule, if any, excess burden on the hospital system.
The Forgotten of NZ group is open to anyone affected by being locked in or out of NZ due to their residency status under the current border rules. See the Facebook group.