11 Nov 2014

Tongan deportations 'unconscionable'

7:31 am on 11 November 2014

There are renewed calls for New Zealand to stop deporting Tongan overstayers back to the islands of Ha'apai devastated by Cyclone Ian in January.

New Zealand lawyer, Richard Small, has just visited Ha'apai and found "a bomb site" with families struggling without proper shelter, a water shortage, failed crops, illness and depression.

"Many people are living in tents and those that are not living in tents are living half or completely under canvas," he said.

The "huge devastation" wasn't unexpected, he said, but the lack of progress with the rebuild was a surprise.

About 500 houses were destroyed and 141 of them are in the urgent queue for cyclone houses funded by the World Bank. It claims all 141 will be finished by the end of this year, and the rest by mid-2015.

But Mr Small said construction has started on just 40 houses and, at that rate, it would take five years to complete.

"And that doesn't include houses that have been half wrecked, and damage to gardens, damage to fishing nets, lost boats - a community of 7,000-plus people effectively forgotten, they feel, and clearly in distress."

Houses are still badly damaged months after Cyclone Ian.

Houses are still badly damaged months after Cyclone Ian. Photo: Richard Small

Mr Small has eight appeals before the Associate Minister of Immigration to halt deportation of clients originally from Ha'apai.

Deportations would be "unconscionable"

He said it would be "completely unconscionable" for New Zealand send them back as extra mouths to feed.

"A prudent approach is needed. Children are the victims in all this and we will be pleading with the Associate Minister for a realistic approach."

Massive damage remains after Cyclone Ian.

Massive damage remains after Cyclone Ian. Photo: Richard Small

A Tongan woman living in Auckland, Taufa Tu'akoi, agreed based on the experience of her husband, Salese.

He was deported in October 2013. Mrs Tu'akoi said he can't find work there and is "so depressed'.

Because he has no land of his own, her husband is living with relatives in a one-bedroom house on the small island of Tungua in Ha'apai.

They have a water shortage and have to go each week to nearby Hafeva island to get water brought in by the Tongan navy.

She said New Zealand should not be deporting overstayers who will make things worse for relatives in Ha'apai.

"They are struggling to find something to eat and drink. How they can feed these people if the government send them back?"

Mr Small said families in Ha'apai need money to buy building materials. Community leaders there told him it would help if New Zealand gave them an extra 100 places on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

President of Auckland's Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, said it was time for New Zealand to open up opportunities for people "in desperation".

Melino Maka from Auckland's Tongan Advisory Council.

Melino Maka from Auckland's Tongan Advisory Council. Photo: Karen Mangnall

"They can actually come here and work and also money will go directly to assist the rebuild of family homes. Because at the moment there's nothing there from the Tongan Government."

With so many families still in tents, Mr Maka said relatives in New Zealand can only pray that Ha'apai does not get hit again in the cyclone season that has just started.

An El Nino watch is in force in Tonga. The weather cycle usually brings drought followed by an increased likelihood of cyclones.