Pasifika families miss out celebrating Xmas together

10:53 am on 3 December 2020

Border restrictions in the Pacific due to Covid-19 are keeping Pasifika families apart over Christmas.

For many families, it's an annual tradition to travel to the islands to see their families and re-connect with their culture, and for others it is a long awaited holiday away from New Zealand.

Kaumosi Opie, aged 34, visited Tuvalu last year for the first time since she moved to New Zealand as a 9 year old.

It was at that trip where her and her sister decided they will make it a tradition to visit Tuvalu every Christmas.

Kaumosi Opie (right) and her sister in Tuvalu Photo: Supplied

"It was actually my sister's first time as I was born in Tuvalu, and so I knew the language and the culture, where as for my sister, it was a whole new cultural experience for her.

"It was wonderful to go back and to share that trip with my sister and watch her fully immerse herself in the culture, hence why we wanted to go back every year," she said.

Opie initially planned to go to Tuvalu in April this year, but had to cancel the trip due to the first national lockdown.

"We thought things would come right by December, so myself, my two sons, daughter, mum and sister were going to fly over in the beginning of November and then my husband and father were going to join in December; spend Christmas and New Years in Tuvalu visiting the nine atolls and then come back in the middle of January," he said.

"This would have been the first time my mother has travelled to Tuvalu since she left in 1995. My extended family were even planning on coming along when they heard our plans. It was a big deal for our families," Opie shared.

The local Government of Tuvalu announced restrictions on entry to Tuvalu prompting Opie to cancel but she said it was best that Tuvalu continued on with their safety measures in place.

"I was gutted, but I would rather keep my homeland safe and Covid-19-free.

"I didn't want to go there...because Tuvalu is so small and if Covid-19 was to get there, it will wipe out the whole country."

Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

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Kilinganoa Ng Lam and her family had plans to go to Tonga for Christmas and a birthday celebration.

"It's my dad's 60th birthday so he wanted us to all go down and have a family reunion as well as celebrate his birthday in Tonga.

"My father hasn't been back to Tonga since 2015 and before that, it had been 30 years since he was last in the Kingdom."

Ng Lam was fortunate enough to not have booked any flights or accommodation for December.

"Thankfully we usually book our flights six months prior to our trip, but at that time, New Zealand was dealing with Covid-19 cases and it didn't seem like travelling to the Pacific was going to be doable.

"It was hard hearing about people who had booked their flights and didn't get a refund, but instead credit. I mean, that money could have gone towards bills, as we can't guarantee that we can travel anytime soon," she said.

Ng Lam was sad and disappointed they couldn't get to Tonga.

"Mainly because my parents were really looking forward to this trip given the year we've had, but I understand that Pacific Island governments are being cautious with who they open their borders to because of how deadly this virus is."

Chaun had plans to go Rarotonga for Christmas.

Photo: AFP

The Auckland mother of Cook Islands heritage had plans to go Fiji in November for Diwali and then onto Rarotonga.

She was about to book flights for Fiji in March until she heard the news about Covid-19.

"Literally the news about the pandemic was announced on the week I was about to book my flights for Fiji first.

"As time went on and then the second lockdown happened, I decided I was not going to book any flights because I started to hear that other people who had book flights were not getting refunds, so I wasn't going to risk that," she said.

The mother had plans to take her 10-year-old daughter to the Cook Islands for the first time.

"I haven't been to Rarotonga for 10 years now and we were really excited to go there, celebrate our birthdays as we are both born in December and go visit my mother who was buried there."

New Zealand officials were in the Cook Islands in November as part of ongoing work to investigate a possible travel bubble.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said a travel bubble with the Cook Islands could be in place a couple of weeks after officials have given the green light.