Stranded in India, desperate to return

Wellington resident George Palmer is one of hundreds of New Zealanders in need of a mercy flight...
Wellington resident George Palmer is one of hundreds of New Zealanders in need of a mercy flight home from the Covid-19 lockdown in India. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Hundreds of Kiwis are stuck in India after flights back to New Zealand were cancelled amid the Covid-19 lockdown. Otago Daily Times reporter Abbey Palmer speaks to her brother George Palmer, a former University of Otago student, about lockdown in Delhi and the struggle to get home.

When my brother first told me he was embarking on a one-man tour of India, I was nervous for him. It was his first time travelling solo and he was doing it on a motorbike.

However, nothing could ever prepare me or my family for the news he would be stuck in a Delhi hotel room with no certainty of when he would get home due to Covid-19.

George and I video-chatted a few days after India went into lockdown. He had been kicked out of a hotel and had struggled to find accommodation.

Eventually, the New Zealand High Commission transferred him to another hotel, for what he feared could be at least three months or until he could get a flight home.

The catch — a bill of $100-plus per day.

"There are about 800 registered Kiwis stuck in India, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had been talking to an older couple who wanted to transfer to my hotel because they were being kicked out of theirs."

In an attempt to create a register of other New Zealanders trapped in India, George started a Facebook group which, in a week, had nearly 300 members.

"I think people are feeling really hopeless and abandoned. It feels like the Government isn't doing enough to get us home ... some people have run out of medications, have infants with them or are pregnant."

Advice from the New Zealand Embassy had been to stay put until the Government provided options for returning home, he said.

"They suggested I try to find return flights myself but it’s just too risky. I’ve tried but it’s hard to find them and if you do, it’s likely they could get cancelled and we could get stuck in a worse position."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs [Mfat] was approached for comment and a spokeswoman confirmed there were 783 New Zealanders residing or travelling in India registered on the Government’s SafeTravel website.

The statement acknowledged India had implemented "strict border measures which meant no commercial flights were currently operating".

"There are groups of New Zealanders in countries and regions where there are no immediate flight options. Some people have requested mercy flights to help them repatriate.

"The Government is not able to consider a wide range or large number of repatriation flights."

However, in some specific circumstances, it had been possible to help New Zealanders return, usually working closely with other partners like Australia.

"These flights are complex to arrange and will not be possible in many countries."

George said while all those in the Facebook group had distressing stories to tell, fellow New Zealanders had been very supportive of each other.

What they all agreed on was the urgent need for the New Zealand Government to supply mercy flights to get home, which they were willing to pay for.

abbey.palmer@odt.co.nz

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