Bordering on fear and hate: Vitriol aimed at returnees heartbreaking

4:06 pm on 1 October 2021

By Angus Simmons

Opinion - I am returning to my favourite country but why am I not excited?

International arrivals airport sign

Some expats are uncertain of the reception they will hEreceive coming back to New Zealand. File photo. Photo: 123RF

When the world stopped at the beginning of 2020, my wife and I asked ourselves if our plans to come to Europe should be postponed indefinitely.

The window of development for opera singers is small and to better ourselves in Europe was something we had wanted and needed to do for years.

September had always been the month we intended to go and we could not wait any longer. It was 100 percent the right decision and one we have never regretted.

We have spent the last 12 months in Germany and Italy pursuing our passion.

We have had an extremely beneficial time working with great teachers and coaches and we have developed our craft to the point where we have even surprised ourselves.

Europe is where we need to be and we will return as soon as possible. To cut a long story short, visa issues have forced us to return to New Zealand for a short while.

I know our circumstances are not even close to being as dire as those that others are facing. I feel guilty for going back and for months now I have helped dozens of people get a spot in MIQ and their stories have all been hard to listen to.

I cannot imagine what they and so many others are going through. I am not interested in being told we should not have travelled, or that we are not worthy of a spot in MIQ. We decide to pursue our passion and for that I will never apologise.

We begin the long journey back to that little slice of isolated paradise at the bottom of the world. Back to see our parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and our dearest friends who we have missed very much. Why then, as I sit on this train to Frankfurt Airport, do I feel dread instead of excitement?

The truth is, the comments and attitudes of those inside New Zealand's borders toward those outside have tainted my love for our country and our people. That really hurts to admit.

It is a strange feeling to be returning to the place you adore more than anywhere else in the world, the place that is home to the most treasured people in your life, yet remain unconvinced it is where you want to be.

Don't get me wrong - it is not lost on me how fortunate we are to have an MIQ spot and yes, we are grateful. However, I always thought New Zealanders were the empathetic, compassionate, "put yourselves in the other person's boots" type.

The vitriol aimed towards New Zealanders overseas has been nothing short of heartbreaking and at times, vile. There seems to be an unwillingness to listen to our point of view and this is usually accompanied by a fierce, holier-than-thou defence of New Zealand's handling of the pandemic. We New Zealanders overseas have been told or called the following on social media.

"Traitors"; "plague rats", "I hope you get Covid and die before you get home"; "we have to get sick because you are selfish?"; "go back to where you came from", "burn your passport, you're not a real Kiwi"; "you are complicit in burying a generation of the elderly"; "my social life is more important than you seeing your dying Dad" and "let them travel by ship to an offshore island for all I care."

These are just a handful of the toxic comments New Zealanders overseas are receiving and trust me, there are dozens more. For a country whose mantras are "Be Kind" and "Team of 5 million", where is the kindness and inclusivity?

Why are there no official voices calling for this kindness to the team of one million New Zealanders overseas?

I would like to take the moment here to point out that we of course know that these comments reflect the attitudes of a small percentage of the New Zealand population and I am not lumping all New Zealand-based people into this group.

However, the hateful voices are the loudest voices and the voices that cause the most harm. There is no doubt in my mind that this commentary is a result of fear and blissful ignorance of what life is like for New Zealanders overseas.

A fear that I believe has been drip-fed from the top and permeated the country through daily Covid-19 briefings and incessant, doom and gloom media coverage.

Every single citizen or resident has their own, valid reason to return to the country. We are not "just coming back for a holiday". If you think anyone's idea of a holiday is paying $3000-plus for 14 days in a hotel, then I think you need to rethink your definition of the word "holiday".

The MIQ booking system is broken beyond words. Until a sufficient percentage of the population is vaccinated, I accept MIQ is required.

It is a lottery and instead of little balls with numbers and cash, it is playing with people's lives. We have heard all the comments saying "you've had 18 months to come home" or "now you want to come home when you realised overseas isn't all it is cracked up to be".

These comments do nothing but highlight the ignorance of the fact that New Zealanders - many of whom still pay tax in New Zealand - have families, businesses, jobs and houses overseas and it is not always possible to drop things and return to the other side of the world.

The classic tall-poppy syndrome, or as Grounded Kiwi Shane Lust aptly renamed it, the "bitter-and-small-minded" syndrome, is another driving force behind these comments. How dare New Zealanders pursue brilliance overseas and wish to return to see family after two years. London-based New Zealander, Nicola Vandermeer, pointed out it is particularly hurtful when family members are the ones directing the "you made your choice, now suffer" sentiments toward those based abroad.

To those in New Zealand, please, please do try and see things from the point of view of the father separated from his young family, or the daughter whose elderly parents have only a few months to live, or the mother who has lost her job and cannot support her family much longer from the redundancy payout.

It is not black and white - it is in fact many, many shades of grey. We know you want to keep the country safe - we all do but we are not some alien race of people who are all Covid-19 positive coming to infect you. Most of us have lived through the pandemic overseas and are now at least a few months into "living with the virus".

Anyway, I have digressed slightly. It is disappointing that I am not looking forward to going to New Zealand and instead feel sad about having to return to our beautiful country. I don't know what reception we will receive from those who view us as "dirty expats", but I just hope that the perception can change, and change quickly.

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