Nine international flights have been booked and another 33 victims and families are waiting for flight details to attend the mosque shooter’s sentencing in Christchurch next month.
The terrorist will be sentenced on August 24 after pleading guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of committing a terrorist act in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.
Stuff has spoken with several victims currently overseas who are anxiously waiting for details about flights home, including from Turkey and Bangladesh.
A Victim Support spokesman said 11 families – 23 people – of the deceased and 19 of the injured had requested help to travel internationally for the sentencing. All were eligible for travel support, flights and visas. Flights will arrive from Turkey, Malaysia, Australia, Qatar, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, India, Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Spain, Mauritius, Jordan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Fiji, and Bahrain once visas are arranged.
All will be required to complete two weeks of managed isolation, as other international arrivals do, while New Zealand’s Covid-19 restrictions remain.
To date, 13 people have had travel approved and nine flights have been booked, including six international and three domestic.
Victim Support was in the process of booking another four international flights.
Mariam Gul, whose mother, father, and brother were killed on March 15, said her city of Karachi, Pakistan, was “heavily affected” by Covid-19, so she and her young family were unable to travel to New Zealand.
The pandemic is the latest in a series of hurdles that have stopped her being able to visit the country where her three family members were killed.
Families of seven injured victims, and 12 deceased victims’ families, were still deciding whether to travel.
The Victim Support spokesman said he expected more flights would be requested, and the numbers were changing “by the hour”.
The Ministry of Justice on Friday announced it would extend its financial support to anyone who was present at the Christchurch mosques at the time of the attacks who wanted to return to the city for the gunman’s sentencing.
An Immigration New Zealand spokeswoman said it received 35 requests for a border exception under the Christchurch Humanitarian criteria.
Another 15 requests had been made by victims and families, with 10 invitations to apply issued, and no requests refused.
The Victim Support spokesman said there were limited flights to and from New Zealand, and the managed isolation timeframe meant arranging flights in time for the sentencing was a challenge.
“We want to make sure no-one who wants to travel – and is eligible to do so – misses the limited timeframe in which to arrange it.
“We are working closely with Immigration New Zealand and appreciate they are also working hard to ensure applications are processed as quickly as possible.”
The total cost of the sentencing flights is not yet known.