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Plea for way home for hundreds of Tongan seasonal workers

Tuesday 23 November 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Regional, Tonga

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Plea for way home for hundreds of Tongan seasonal workers
Photo: 123rf.com

Hundreds of Tongan seasonal workers from the RSE scheme are stranded in New Zealand and desperate to get home.

Before the pandemic, more than 14,000 horticultural workers a year were coming to New Zealand to take part in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, mostly from Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

But some of those workers have been caught in New Zealand when their home countries closed their borders against Covid-19, and have been unable to fly home.

Regional Seasonal Employer liaison officer Sefita Hao'uli said some of the Tongan RSE workers are looking at their third Christmas stuck in New Zealand and separated from their families.

He has written to members of Tonga's newly elected parliament pleading for them to sort out the repatriation system between New Zealand and Tonga.

The Tonga government postponed all repatriation flights after a person who arrived from Christchurch last month tested positive for Covid-19.

But Hao'uli said there should still be repatriation flights exclusively for the RSE workers.

"This came to a head last week when we had the repatriation flight that was supposed to have gone back on the 23rd, it was deferred to the 30th because the virus showed up in Tonga with the last repatriation flight.

"After all this time we think that it can be done a lot better than what is happening."