Tongan mum closer to reuniting with her kids after she's finally granted access to NZ

After a nine-month ordeal of cancelled flights, more than 100 emails, multiple visa applications and doors being closed, a Tongan mum is finally on her way to being reunited with her two young children.

Three weeks ago, Louena Tupa shared her story of how she and her husband, who live in Japan, decided in February to fly their then four-year-old daughter and five-month-old son to Tonga to keep them safe after a Covid-19 cluster broke out in their neighbourhood.

Tupa had planned to join her children a week later but flight after flight she booked got cancelled — and then the borders closed.

After speaking to Breakfast, she was put on a repatriation list by the Tongan government — but was still declined by Immigration NZ.

She was later told it was because all of New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities were full.

But by some miracle, Tupa managed to book a MIQ spot online herself, jumped through multiple hoops and got her visa approved to come into New Zealand, and will be on Tonga's next repatriation flight leaving Auckland in two weeks.

"It's a pretty big deal to be back here in NZ," she told Breakfast today from her isolation room at the Rydges in Rotorua.

Even after returning to Tonga, Tupa will have to spend another two weeks in isolation.

But she'll be home just in time for Christmas.

"The day I was told my visa was granted, I called [my daughter] and I just told her, 'Hey, Mummy's coming.' I was all emotional, I was crying," Tupa says.

"She was like, 'Don't cry Mummy, be strong. You're coming to get us, you're coming soon.' She's pretty excited that I'm coming to Tonga, coming to them."

Lawyer Richard Small helped Tupa get her visa. He says the doors opened at the last minute for her.

"It's hit and miss... People are booking multiple slots," he says.

Those "ghost spots" are only released publicly 48 hours after being cancelled. It means one person could potentially book multiple spots as they secure their flight, but only confirming one.

The MIQ spots eventually open up again, but people like Tupa have to continually check in with their fingers crossed that one will work for them.

"It was a daily task that I had that I would check. When I woke up, I checked. When I had a break, I checked," Tupa says.

Even after booking the MIQ spot, Tupa and Small had to race to get her visa over the line.

Small says it was "nail-biting", but it worked out. Tupa arrived on Friday.

"They need to reserve some places. It's too hit and miss," he says.

"The booking system needs to be looked at so people can't hold maybe 10 places." 

As for Tupa, she's just relieved her reunion with her young children is within sight at last.

"It'll just be a very emotional time for me. Nine months. Next month will be 10 months," she says.

"It's just going to be really emotional. I'm going to cry the whole time I see them. To hold them again is going to be so unbelievable. It's going to be a very happy moment."

MIQ authorities have been contacted for comment by 1 NEWS.


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