Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Kiwi hero living in limbo with family of five awaiting MIQ spot to see dying mother

A Kiwi man in Australia has spent the last month couch surfing with his family of five, while they wait for an emergency MIQ spot in time to see his dying mother.

New Zealand-born man Turawaho Hemopo, who lives in Brisbane, made the news in 2019 for stopping an attempted robbery.

With the news his mother has months to live, Hemopo and his partner quit their jobs late last year, unenrolled their three kids from school, and moved out of their home in preparation to move to New Zealand.

But the delayed border reopening from January 17 has meant they are now living in a state of limbo – eating through their savings and staying with friends and family – as they wait for borders to reopen, or an emergency MIQ room to become available.

Hemopo found out last weekend that their application for an emergency allocated MIQ room, applied for on January 13, had been rejected.

“It’s been a really stressful time for my family and I because we left our jobs last year, we haven’t been working and we’ve literally been struggling,” he said.

“We’re very thankful for our family and friends but we have a family of five – me, my partner and our three children. And we’re just moving from house to house, stay a few days here, stay a few days there.”

“We don’t have any real income, our banks are overdrawn. Because we thought we would be in New Zealand by now.”

New Zealand’s MIQ application process has been under the spotlight for months, but has garnered particular scrutiny this week through the plight of pregnant Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis, who faced giving birth in Afghanistan due to the difficulty of securing an MIQ spot.

An MIQ spokesperson said there are currently 400 “emergency allocation” rooms per fortnight – set aside for people who need to travel to New Zealand urgently.

Applicants need to provide evidence to support their application, which is then assessed on a “case by case basis”.

Hemopo said his family had spent weeks providing all the necessary documentation for the MIQ application. This included details of their cancelled flights, termination of employment, ending of lease agreement and bank statements to prove they were in financial hardship.

He had also had to prove both his relationship with his mother, and with his partner of five years,who he is engaged to.

As the five are a blended family, Hemopo said they had also had difficulty ensuring his partner’s son could be part of the application.

When pushed to provide more information on his mother’s stage 4 cancer, her doctor wrote a letter outlining her life expectancy – 12 months, when she was diagnosed last year.

“The second letter from the doctor put everything in there, including life expectancy and what would happen if she finished her treatment, that she’s only got months if not weeks.”

“To be honest, with that letter we thought there’s no way we can get denied.

“My mum was diagnosed on the 14th of the April 2021 – I looked at the date the other day and it was the 29th January. I’ve got a couple of months left.”

Hemopo describes himself as a strong person but said the MIQ process and rejection had really impacted on his mental health.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat here in disbelief – I’m normally a strong man, I’m not one to cry tears.”

“But it’s my mum, it’s different. Anyone that knows me knows my mum is my queen, she means everything to me.”

Over the three months until Jan 30, MIQ had processed 9,388 completed applications and approved 5,727 applications for emergency allocations – a success rate of just over 60 per cent.

There are five categories available for the application of an emergency application – ranked in order of how they will be prioritised. Hemopo had been asked to apply for category 2e, for Kiwis entering New Zealand to visit a close relative living with a terminal illness or end-stage disease.

An MIQ spokesperson said applications for emergency allocations were assessed on a “case-by-case basis, against set criteria, which includes consideration of mental health, where appropriate.”

“These decisions are not easy ones to make and we are sympathetic to the distressing situations people applying for an emergency allocation are in,” they said.

To be eligible, they said the travel must be time-critical and the applicant must be willing to travel within 14 days.

Under category 2e applicants must provide a letter from a medical practitioner outlining the close relative’s terminal condition and life expectancy.

“In order to facilitate the most urgent visits while our facilities are full, we do need to ask this difficult question,” the spokesperson said.

Aside from the difficulty of being separated from his mother, Hemopo was saddened by the attitudes of other New Zealanders who were unsympathetic to Kiwis trapped overseas.

“It breaks my heart because we’re supposed to be Kiwis,” he said.

“From what I know of being a Kiwi, and even an Anzac, you support each other … but I feel like now it’s between the team of five million and the team of one million. There’s this great divide now.”

“All I can say on behalf of a lot of Kiwis who are stuck overseas, we are not trying to bring Covid to New Zealand, that is not our intention.”

“Our intentions are pure and we just want to come home.”

Hemopo and his family are currently reapplying for emergency allocation, after being asked to provide their original flight details again.

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