Cook Islanders, expat workers and students still stranded overseas are waiting to be told when they may be able to come home as part of a new repatriation process.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has given them a glimmer of hope. “No one in the tribe must be left behind,” he said.
Up to 50 tertiary students in New Zealand have told the High Commission in Wellington that they want to return to Cook Islands, to continue their studies remotely.
Cassidy Jackson-Carroll, a teacher at Nukutere College, is another anxious to return – to her own students.
She has been in Australia since borders closed. She has booked flights from Australia to Rarotonga on July 3, but is worried about the lack of communication from Te Marae Ora.
She has been on the list since repatriation began and is prepared to fly to New Zealand to complete her 14 days of supervised quarantine.
But before she organises anything, Jackson-Carroll wants confirmation that she has been placed in a group, otherwise she will be stuck in New Zealand.
“There are a lot of unknowns to deal with,” she said.
Technical advisor for the Cook Islands National Disability Council Destiny Tara is waiting on a response from authorities, concerning the repatriation of one of their members, a woman who is deaf and stranded in Auckland.
“We’re all in the same storm, but we’ve (persons with disability) never been invited on that boat; we have been excluded and left outside. It is hugely disappointing.”
Tara is dismayed at the appalling lack of communication and empathy, regarding the repatriation process, and that a sign interpreter was not provided for the woman.
She is aware that none of the information, messages or processes about “repatriation” have been inclusive of people with disabilities.
“What they don’t realise is, that they’re saying you don’t matter; you’re not important enough, to know about this information.
“It’s a pure lack of communication, in accessible ways,” said Tara.
Selling the message of “we’re all in this together. But actually, no, if you’re deaf, blind or have some sort of intellectual or social disability, or mental health illness, actually no, you’re not a part of this.”
The woman concerned received her new passport in Auckland last week, after her application was filed by family members.
Julia Evans is excited at the news of another flight to return home with her husband and two boys.
Return dates had not been confirmed, she said.
During his address, the Prime Minister confirmed they were working through the details to determine when there would be new repatriation processes available for those still wanting to return.
“It will take many days, but the current outlook is already helping us scope out the options, to continue with a new repatriation process,” he said.
Their approach, Puna said, was guided, by the traditional principle that no one in the tribe would be left behind.
“While we will still need to meet all the appropriate but necessary public health requirements, we have teams of professionals working hard, to consolidate the circumstances of our remaining stranded overseas, and to prepare the groundwork for their safe return,” he said.
“The contacts will be pursued in the immediate future, as we determine the constraints and difficulties, for those prepared to travel, including our people stranded beyond New Zealand, migrating Cook Islanders, contracted workers, and students.”
>Additional reporting Melina Etches.