First group of Tokelauans repatriated since start of Covid-19 pandemic

The first group of Tokelauans to be repatriated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic are finally on home soil after more than a month in quarantine in New Zealand and Samoa.

The trip is expected to be one of the happiest for the islanders who set sail from Samoa on Wednesday and are relieved they will be home for Christmas.

The group had arrived in Apia on a repatriation flight from New Zealand on 13 November.

But they had to spend an extra week in isolation in Samoa on top of the required 14 days after a passenger on the same flight tested positive for Covid-19.

Some of the 33 people who are undergoing yet another 14 days quarantine on their home atolls of Fakaofo and Nukunonu have been stuck in New Zealand since March.

Tokelauan journalist Elena Pasilio is one of the group who disembarked from the MV Mataliki at Nukunonu.

She said it felt great to be home.

"Still can't believe we're here after such a long journey, it doesn't feel real that we're here, but we're here and we're so happy, couldn't be happier."

She said they were now under quarantine again.

"Even though we're behind a gate it still feels good to be among our people on home soil."

Tokelau had been working with Samoa and New Zealand to get the group home, she said.

Pasilio said the group had a more than 30 hour journey on the boat from Samoa after getting out of quarantine there.

"I can't imagine there are many places like this in the world that are so remote but we're definitely so lucky to have governments working together to you know make sure that we're home for New Year's and Christmas with our families."

When they arrived they got off the barge and a van was waiting for them, she said.

Pasilio said there were a lot of people waiting to welcome them at the wharf, but of course it was only from afar.

She said she felt like royalty and saw her mother and sisters holding up a welcome home sign and her two-year-old daughter was also there.

She said she has been documenting the whole trip from New Zealand.

"These memories, they're going to be treasure, like they are treasure to me. So I've just been trying to get as much as I can and I got that with my daughter waving at the van as my sisters held up the welcome home sign, it was pretty special."

She said they are getting out of quarantine on Christmas Day.

"I can't think of a better Christmas gift than just going home, seeing my parents, seeing my sisters, just going to the sea because when we came yesterday from the boat, you know after spending 30 hours or more on the boat we just wanted to go straight into the sea but that couldn't happen, we're not allowed out of this gated quarantine place we're in."

She said that was totally understandable and the group are happy to be in quarantine to keep everyone safe.