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The Government announced on Friday afternoon that it will extend the border exception criteria to help some offshore victims and support people attend the mosque shooter's sentencing, which is scheduled to start on August 24 – and last three or more days.
"We want to support our valued Muslim brothers and sisters who were directly affected by this tragic event and understand that some who are now offshore do want to attend the sentencing," said Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.
"We have quickly established a process to allow victims and a family member or support person to come to New Zealand using new humanitarian grounds. This is within our intent for the use of this provision."
And a one-off extension to the Victim Assistance Scheme, which will financially support more victims of the mosque attacks to travel to attend sentencing, has also been announced this afternoon.
The extension enables all victims who were in the mosques at the time of the attacks to be eligible to receive contributions towards travel-related costs, rather than just being restricted to those who suffered gunshot injuries, and the families of the dead.
"This one-off exception recognises the unprecedented nature of the attacks and the trauma on all victims who were present. Sentencing is an important part of our justice process," said the Ministry of Justice's chief operating officer Carl Crafar.
Victim Support, which administers the Victim Assistance Scheme on behalf of the ministry, welcomed the move.
"This extension will help victims of the Al Noor and Linwood Mosque attacks to engage with the criminal justice system, supporting their healing and safety," said Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso.
"Victim Support will continue to work closely with victims, and their support people, to enable them to attend sentencing."
The mosque killer's sentencing had been delayed by Covid-19 and was confirmed by the courts last week.
New Zealand's borders are closed to everyone other than citizens and residents, but Justice Cameron Mander said there had been extensive efforts to "assess potential steps to assist victims and family members" to travel to New Zealand to attend the sentencing.
Lees-Galloway said today that to manage isolation and quarantine capacity, those eligible to submit an expression of interest for a border exception under new humanitarian grounds are:
• Up to two family members of those killed or one family member and one support person.
• Those who the gunman tried to murder and one family member or support person to accompany them.
"I am mindful that the time it may take individuals to submit an application, together with the limited commercial airline flights and the managed quarantine requirements, do make the logistics of getting to New Zealand in this timeframe a challenge," he said.
The Ministry of Justice alongside the courts have been working to put in place "technology options", including a livestreaming link, to help victims who are overseas and unable to travel to view the sentencing hearing and read victim impact statements remotely.
"New Zealand is a country that is very proud of our multicultural community," said Lees-Galloway.
"We want to assure those who live here, and those who may in the future, that New Zealand is united in condemning this act of terrorism."
None of the victims knew of a remarkable, hurriedly organised hearing in March, on the first day of the national coronavirus alert level four lockdown where the gunman entered shock guilty pleas to all charges.
Along with all 51 murders, the gunman has been convicted on 40 charges of attempted murder relating to the two attacks at Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15 last year - and pleaded guilty to one charge of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
The Crown's summary of facts, which outlines the offending, will be read out at sentencing.
Justice Mander has called for a pre-sentence report and victim impact statements.