Family members who flew in to help those injured in the Christchurch attacks are now struggling with mounting hospital bills. The Government says they should have known their visa conditions would leave them liable for the debts, Dileepa Fonseka reports.
Relatives of those injured in the March 15 attacks who rushed into the country on visitor visas in the days after the attack should have known they would be liable for hospital bills incurred while here, the Immigration Minister says.
Families who rushed to New Zealand to support the victims of the March 15 attacks should have checked their visas, the Immigration Minister says.
In the days after the attacks close family members arrived on temporary visitor and work visas to support those with serious gunshot wounds.
And they’ve stayed, in some cases to take care of victims who face a lifetime of health care needs.
But the conditions those visas were granted under mean they are not eligible for healthcare subsidies and some are racking up debts with District Health Boards, as Newsroom reported this week.
“No matter what the circumstances are that they come under I think they understand what they can expect when they’re here on a visitor visa.”
Newsroom spoke to two gunshot survivors, one who is permanently disabled and lives on up to 30 painkillers a day, another who was relying on his father for the day-to-day basics of life after the attack.
Both had family members travel to New Zealand who have had unexpected health issues pop up while they were caring for them, in one case it had left them with a debt to the health board of $7,000.
Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway said: “No matter what the circumstances are that they come under, I think they understand what they can expect when they’re here on a visitor visa.”
“I think they need to plan accordingly.”
Tayyaba Khan, founder & CEO of the Khadija Leadership Network said Lees-Galloway had made a “naive assumption” that relatives of terror attack victims would have read the “fine-print” of their visa conditions in the immediate aftermath of the March 15 terrorist attack.
“You’re talking about people who don’t live here who have come her to support other people because we can’t find ways of, for one reason or another, supporting them ourselves.”
“The expectation that they would have a) the ability to know what the system is, b) read the fine-print is actually a pretty major ask in a traumatic situation.”
Lees-Galloway also said no one had raised the issue of healthcare debts with him.
‘Stop thinking like a Government agency’
But independent advisor to the Christchurch Foundation Raf Manji said he did raise the issue with Lees-Galloway at an event in late November.
Manji said he also got an answer from immigration officials at the time that such a move would set a precedent.
“For the issue of the terror attack [we need] a bespoke response and I’ve said it again and again and again to all government agencies: just stop thinking like a government agency.”
“Anything to do with that attack needs to be treated as a special case and quite frankly with a special budget..they’re all siloed by their budgets and nobody wants to take on costs when they don’t need to.”
‘Treat visitors same as victims’
Manji said family relatives of Christchurch terror attack victims should be treated like permanent residents while they are here caring for victims of the attacks.
Spokeswoman for the Islamic Women’s Council of NZ Anjum Rahman said case workers for the families should be able to help them engage with a number of different agencies to solve issues like these.
Some of the Christchurch terror attack victims were meeting the costs of their family’s debts themselves through their victim payouts, something Manji earlier said was “not fair” to them.
Green Party spokeswoman on Immigration Golriz Ghahraman said her party had advocated that visas being issued to relatives of the March 15 victims be “as fair and sustainable as possible” for this reason.
“We knew people couldn’t just come here for a short time and leave.”
“We have people with really high needs medical care, long-term at the hospital, that are going to need family support and those family members are coming here to do that, in a way, for New Zealand.”
Ghahraman said it was symptomatic of a wider issues the country had within its immigration system with family reunification.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wasn’t aware of cases where families of victims had incurred health debts but said: “For some who may wish to stay I would encourage to access visas that give them that little bit of surety.”
“There are other family members who have gone through a process so they can get that certainty if they intend to stay here longer.”
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