Border restrictions - Families kept apart

From Voices, 7:00 am on 3 May 2021

There should be three children in this picture but two of them are stuck in India. New Zealand's border closed just one day before toddlers, Nimrat and Tarman Kaur, were due to join their parents in Christchurch.

A photo of two women on a couch playing with a three month old baby

Gagandeep Kaur, Paavan Kaur and Parvinder Kaur Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Parvinder Kaur is pictured here with her baby daughter, Parvaan, in Christchurch where she lives with her husband, Maninder Singh and their sister and brother in law, Gagandeep Kaur and Pritpal Singh.

The two couples share more than a home: both families have a child living with the same grandparents in Rajasthan.  

In both cases the families came to New Zealand hoping to work and establish themselves before sending for their children. Both Gagandeep and Parvinder are partway through the process of gaining their residency. 

A year ago they decided they were ready to welcome back their daughters. Visas were arranged for both children and the grandparents who would stay with them while they transitioned back to living with their parents.

A shot of two young girls, Tarman Kaur and Nimrat Kaur, who are living in India

Tarman Kaur and Nimrat Kaur Photo: Supplied

"We were very happy that tomorrow morning our daughter will be in the plane and the day after they will be here," Parvinder Kaur said.

They booked a flight for 20 March, 2020 but Covid-19 was about to change their carefully-laid plans.

Just one day before the long awaited flight, the New Zealand government closed its border to non-citizens and residents.

"Everything was planned and packed up and at the time when we called our parents they were just sitting in the car to go to the airport. We said 'Don't go'."

It was a huge blow for the couples and their children and Gagandeep has since seen a change in her daughter's behaviour when they've talked via videocall.

"She doesn't trust us anymore, me and my husband. She just thinks that we're going to lie."

Gagandeep didn't know when she would see her daughter again.

"It is very hard to smile. It is hard. You have a lot of pain in your heart."

She continued to work a split shift each day as a restaurant manager, trying to appear positive for the customers.

"I have to smile to people [like] I'm very happy. Well, I'm not happy.''

Yet she says if she shows her feelings on her face, it will be reflected in the restaurant reviews.

"They will simply review, 'Oh she was very upset, she was tired,' I'm not tired. I'm not upset. I'm just frustrated."

The border closure had also caused problems for Navpreet Kaur, a cousin of the young women who lived with them in Christchurch but had returned to India to marry her husband Prabhjot Singh.

A ceremonial wedding photo of Prabhjot Singh and Navpreet Kaur

Prabhjot Singh and Navpreet Kaur Photo: Supplied

The pair planned to spend less than a month there but the New Zealand border closed on their wedding day.

Speaking from India, Navpreet Kaur, said what they had expected to be an extra couple of months living with family had become more than a year and she was now 'just staying home, getting bored, getting depressed'.

Navpreet and her husband had called for government action and helped organised protests at the New Zealand High Commission in India but without success.

She and many people she knew were now taking medication for depression, Navpreet Kaur said.   

"I know that most of the people are getting depressed. Some of them, they really want to attempt suicide because they do not have money and they do not have to eat anything."

The government recently lifted a two-week travel ban for passengers coming from India but the country then joined Pakistan, Brazil and Papua New Guinea on a new "very high risk" list, meaning only citizens and their immediate family were allowed into New Zealand from those countries.

India was facing a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections. This meant there could be no immediate return for Navpreet and her husband. Nor could Gagandeep and Parvinders' daughters come to New Zealand. 

The family understood the seriousness of the health situation in India, Gagandeep said.

However she believed the government should have acted sooner to reunite families and hoped that, if the situation in India improved, it would grant migrant families the same rights as residents and critical workers.

Gagandeep wanted people to remember that 'we are human too' and she had a message for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"She has a daughter. She can understand. She knows the motherhood so she shouldn't have made that kind of decisions [sic] which will break the families."  

An photo of Gagandeep Kaur looking at an image of her daughter, Nimrat who is still in India.

Gagandeep Kaur looking at a photo of her daughter, Nimrat who is still in India. Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi admitted thousands of people were still in difficulties but said, ultimately, it was Covid that had created the difficult situation.

He would be constantly monitoring the situation and would look for any opportunity to make further changes. 

Covid-related decisions were not easy but, at their core, they were about making sure everyone in New Zealand was safe and healthy, Faafoi said.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.