Covid-19: Reaching out to stranded Malaysians in New Zealand

Kenny Mah
Riza’s young family was stranded in Christchurch until he reached out to other Malaysians living in New Zealand for help and advice. — Pictures courtesy of NZMBA, Riza and Alice Tan

AUCKLAND, March 30 — With the Covid-19 pandemic raging across the globe, travel has gone from easy-peasy to excruciating.

The Malaysians currently stranded in New Zealand know this only too well.

For Malaysians Ethan, 32, and his girlfriend Lizs, 29, that reality hit them really hard when they weren’t able to board their Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight from Christchurch to Singapore on March 23.

Regional hubs such as Singapore and Australia no longer allow passengers to transit if they aren’t nationals or passport holders of the respective countries.

Ethan recalled, “We were advised to email SIA, then to try again at the airport the next day. We did that... the result was the same.”

That’s when they knew they really had to scramble. They contacted the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington (MHC) and were advised that Auckland would be a better location from which to leave New Zealand. MHC also alerted the pair of the impending level 4 lockdown.

”So by the end of Tuesday, we took a domestic flight to Auckland. We were hoping to find Malaysia Airlines (MAS) tickets but were denied entry into the international departures hall as we did not have boarding tickets. MAS doesn't even have a ticket counter there.”

Through a friend, they were encouraged to approach the New Zealand Malaysia Business Association (NZMBA) that had formed the “#ReachOut: Malaysians Reaching Out to the NZ Community” campaign to help stranded Malaysians due to the Covid-19 situation.

Pam Louis, NZMBA Secretary, explained, “We launched the #ReachOut campaign late Monday night, initially offering medical advice and assistance, free legal advice to all in New Zealand and accommodation assistance to stranded Malaysians in the country.”

Later, #ReachOut also expanded to provide free immigration and financial advice as the campaign progressed and the need arose.

That need definitely arose for Riza who was holidaying with his wife and four young children in Christchurch when they realised they couldn’t board their March 24 MAS flight to Melbourne due to Australia closing its borders to non-nationals.

The 40-year-old engineer said, “Airlines chaos made me stuck here at Auckland. We kept looking on the MAS website but still unsuccessful. Most challenging because it’s with the whole family.”

Riza’s children range from one to 10 years of age. He had to decide swiftly but also correctly to get them to safe harbour.

Elsewhere in Christchurch, a different predicament was unfolding. Sometimes being stranded isn’t about trying to get home if you’re able to shelter with family.

Alice Tan’s elderly parents are sheltering in place at her Christchurch home.

Alice Tan, a 58-year-old technical analyst who has been living in New Zealand for the past 31 years, is very worried about the health of her parents who have been visiting her since February.

She said, “My 80-year-old father has high blood pressure and is diabetic. He and my 81-year-old mother both have mitral valve stenosis requiring blood thinners and calcium channel blockers.”

They had brought over three months' worth of medication but Tan is worried when these run out. She explained, “It’s expensive to see a doctor in New Zealand; you need a local prescription before you can even go to the pharmacy.”

Cognisant of these stranded Malaysians' precarious situation, the Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand, Nur Izzah Wong Mee Choo, and her team have been working around the clock to ensure everyone’s well-being — fielding questions from shelter to a flight home.

She said, “We have been calling everyone on the list. Hundreds of emails have come in since the Malay Mail article came out. However, some don’t mention if they’re stranded or simply registering.”

The Malaysian High Commission advises any Malaysian stranded in New Zealand who hasn’t called yet or received a call, to call them again at +64-210440188 or email them at mwwellington@kln.gov.my with “Stranded” in the subject line.

Deeply concerned about everybody's well-being, she added, “Please keep yourselves safe and follow the local rules.”

Fortunately for some stranded Malaysians, their fellow countrymen living in New Zealand responded with speed and plenty of heart.

Dave Ananth (left) and Pam Louis (right) of the New Zealand Malaysia Business Association (NZMBA) have been helping out stranded Malaysians through their #ReachOut campaign.

Dave Ananth, Senior Tax Counsel with Stace Hammond Lawyers, Auckland and President of the NZMBA, said, “Riza reached out first, after reading the first Malay Mail article. Straight away, I put it to my NZMBA group. All were concerned for the four small children.”

One of the members had an empty house as her tenants had just moved out. Without hesitating, this generous Malaysian offered the use of her property to eight complete strangers: Ethan and Lizs moved in on March 25, and Riza’s family on March 26.

Various members of the group chipped in; donating household items such as mattresses, sleeping bags, a rice cooker, a heater and even toys for the young ones.

Ethan, whom his new housemate Riza credits for helping to entertain his four children, summed up their shared experience: “Thank goodness for people who shelter us during these times.”

For help & further information
For updates, please visit the Malaysian High Commission in New Zealand’s Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/malaysianHCNZ/

If you’re a Malaysian stranded in New Zealand and need accommodation, or you can help find accommodation for stranded Malaysians in New Zealand, please contact
the #ReachOut/New Zealand Malaysia Business Association (NZMBA) as follows:

Other articles on Malaysians stranded in New Zealand due to the Covid-19 lockdown:

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