By RNZ. It is republished with permission

A large Hawke’s Bay fruit grower fears for the well being of Pacific Island workers still unable to return home and says Tongan authorities must help out.

Some 487 workers from Tonga and 763 from Vanuatu are registered as requiring urgent repatriation.

There are hundreds of others urgently wanting to get back to other countries including Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati.

A flight to Tonga yesterday was suspended until further notice because of Auckland’s Covid alert level 3 status.

Johnny Appleseed director Paul Paynter said it was not acceptable that young vulnerable men had been left in New Zealand. He said the Tongan government needed to be more pro-active.

“It is very serious. Young men, vulnerable, away from their homes, no income, no pathway home, and struggling with where they are in life. It is an obvious problem for drugs, alcohol and mental health. A real challenge.

“Tonga needs to look after its own citizens and develop a quarantine system to accommodate their repatriation. It’s unconscionable to be left stranded in New Zealand.”

He said it was not fair to make this New Zealand’s problem.

There was an opportunity to get the workers home and it was not “embraced as enthusiastically as it should have been,” he said.

Paynter said it took two months to finally get all 117 of their RSE workers home to Samoa, but with a lot of planning and lobbying that did happen, and when it did it was one of his greatest days.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi also said the shift in alert levels here had been a setback – with repatriation flights to Samoa and Tonga postponed.

He said the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade was continuing to work with counterparts in the Pacific to get workers home.

Faafoi said it was understandable that Pacific nations did not want Covid-19 but discussions were ongoing.

In recent months 3000 RSE workers have returned home, but there are still 7000 here.

Summerfruit New Zealand said many workers were “desperately keen to get home”.

Faafoi said hopefully flights would get back to normal under level 2 but it was upto airlines to get flights back in action.