New Zealand suspension of travel from India questioned amid fears of racist backlash
Community leaders have questioned the New Zealand government’s decision to temporarily close the border to people travelling from India, and say they fear the move could prompt racism and stigma.
“The question of ‘Why India?’ must be asked, and a clear answer should be given,” said Sunil Kaushal, president of the Waitakere Indian Association. He asked why the ruling applied only to India, when other nations including the United States, Brazil, France and the UK had also experienced soaring infection rates, especially when compared per-capita.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Thursday announced that New Zealand would temporarily suspend entry for all travellers from India, including its own citizens, for two weeks from 11 April after recording a high number of positive Covid-19 cases from the country arriving at the border.
On Thursday, New Zealand also announced that another border worker had been infected with Covid-19. There was no indication so far that his infection was linked to a case from India. While the vast majority of New Zealand’s frontline border workers have had at least one dose of vaccine, this worker had not.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told The AM show that 100% of Defence Force border workers had been vaccinated, and that police and aviation security staff were at around 95%. But he said contracted staff at managed isolation facilities – such as Thursday’s worker, who was a security guard – were taking longer. “That’s a process that takes a little bit of time,” he said.
New Zealand has recorded 23 new positive coronavirus cases at its border facilities as of Thursday, of which 17 were from India. India is battling a huge wave of coronavirus infections, even as it carries out record numbers of vaccinations. This week it reported 115,000 fresh infections in 24 hours, the highest single-day total anywhere in the world.
Ardern said on Friday that more than 60 passengers coming into the country from India had tested positive over the past two weeks. “If that number of people from any country were coming in with Covid that would give us cause to pause and look at mitigation to reduce that risk, so this is not country-specific, this is about the cases we are seeing currently from that region,” she said.
“It’s quite shocking, to be honest,” said Mandeep Bela, of the Indian Workers Association. “Since Covid started, we were told that New Zealand cannot shut its borders to its citizens, regardless of where they are, how many cases there are – they cannot stop them coming back to the country.” He said the move means New Zealand citizens in India had been “left stateless”.
Bela also raised concerns that the singling out of India could prompt a racist backlash or stigmatise New Zealanders of Indian descent. “A lot of people have that fear that they will be targeted,” Bela said.
Kaushal shared those concerns, and said he had already observed racist comments being made. “It’s already started – look at the social media streams, listen to talkback radio,” he said. “We are Kiwis. Will we always be treated as second-class citizens?”