Closed until further notice - a life on hold after the mosque attacks

From Insight, 8:10 am on 15 September 2019

About 25 women, made widows by the Christchurch mosque attacks, have been left with no other family to support them permanently in New Zealand. They have leaned heavily on parents and siblings, who have dropped everything to relocate to New Zealand. Now many want to stay here to help long term, but they fall outside special visa categories. Conan Young has been speaking to those trying to rebuild their lives.

Read more: A restaurateur, his chef and the terror attack that changed everything

For the past six months, Ahmed Jahangir, who was injured at the Linwood mosque, has been living with constant burning pain in his right hand that can only be managed with a cocktail of powerful painkillers. A single bullet has caused damaged to chest wall, shattered his collar bone and shredded nerves.

Like many of the victims, Ahmed has a young family to support and is facing having a lifelong disability. He is being helped through by his brother who has moved here with his family from overseas. Ahmed's brother is here on a temporary visitor's visa and was recently declined permanent residency. He's now applying directly to the Immigration Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway.

He is one of dozens who are now scrambling to get their cases in front of the Minister, who has the power to make a final call on whether or not they can stay.

However papers released to RNZ's Insight programme under the Official Information Act, in the run up to this weekend's six month anniversary of the mosque attacks, reveal it didn't have to be this way.

They show Mr Lees-Galloway was keen to ease the way for the 25 widows left without husbands and having to rebuild lives on their own.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said a bill being introduced by the government clarified what pay equity claim was and the process for dealing with it.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Having lost the family's main bread winner, many of these women are taking on that role themselves, learning to drive and pay the bills for the first time and, in some cases, going out to work.  

The Cabinet papers show that just two weeks after the shootings, the minister was of a mind to make their lives just a little bit easier, with the help of a special visa.

The "Christchurch Family Support visa" would have allowed the widows to nominate one family member of their choice, currently living overseas, who would have been eligible to apply for permanent residency.

The aim, to provide "certainty" and "to stabilise family units already living in New Zealand."

Part of the rationale for the scuppered Family Support visa was to capture those not helped by the Christchurch Response visa that opens up permanent residency to victims and their family members, but only if they were already living in New Zealand at the time of the attacks.

The proposed new visa was taken to Cabinet but failed to get the necessary backing.

Mr Lees-Galloway insists the outcome is the best possible result for the widows, who are now having to wait for him to decide their fate.

"There's no visa category in the immigration system that catches everybody. That's exactly the reason why we've had ministerial discretion for a very long time across the whole system. So we knew that whatever we did, we would not capture everybody's individual circumstance," he says.

Subscribe to Insight for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRADIO, RadioPublic or wherever you listen to your podcasts

The advice sought by the minister outlines how a Family Support visa would demonstrate the government's commitment to a "humanitarian response."

Even though the visa was not brought in, the minister says the government has supported victims through the fast tracking of temporary visitor visas for the families of victims and free immigration advice as they prepare their visa applications.

Kilbirnie mosques at prayers - women's section

Papers released to RNZ Insight indicate about 25 widows from the Christchurch shooting are without permanent family support. Photo: File photo Supplied

"The feedback that I have had from people in Christchurch is that they feel the government has responded appropriately, we've responded with compassion and kindness and have been spectacularly led by Jacinda Ardern through all of this. And they know that the government is there for them to continue that support. It's not over."

Iain Lees-Galloway is committed to working as quickly as possible to consider all of the permanent residency applications he anticipates will be coming across his desk from mosque victims and their families in the coming weeks.

He has so far considered two, but declined to say whether or not they had been granted.

Read more:

Follow Insight on Twitter