5 Mar 2012

Officials 'doing all they can' for NZ woman in Algeria

6:27 pm on 5 March 2012

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says officials in Egypt are doing all they can to support a New Zealander trying to get her children back in Algeria.

Mihi Puriri, from Northland, says the father of her three children is holding them captive and New Zealand consul staff from Cairo tried to help her get them back in February this year.

Ms Puiri told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday that the children's Algerian father Mohamed Azzaoui ripped up the family's passports when they arrived in August 2011 and held her and the children in an apartment in the town of Mostaganem.

Mr Azzaoui still has the children: daughters Iman, aged 5, and Assiya, 2, and son Zakaria, who is almost 1.

Ms Puiri said she and New Zealand consul staff tried to get the children back with the help of about 10 gendarmes, but their party was blocked by police and Mr Azzaoui's family.

She says she has not seen her children for about 10 days.

The Labour Party has used the case to argue against planned cuts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

But Murray McCully says the Government will protect the public interest.

"Every day, virtually, we are reminded of the importance of having a good consular service - the Algerian case is but one.

"There are important reasons why the ministry should modernise itself and become efficient, but the New Zealand public will not expect the bar to be lowered as far as consular services are concerned, and I intend to ensure that they are not."

Mr McCully says there has been some criticism of the MFAT's handling of the Algerian situation and he has asked officials for a report.

The ministry says it cannot interfere in the judicial processes of another country.

Mr McCully says this is a complex child custody case and the ministry will continue to provide assistance and support to Ms Puriri in Algeria.