OPINION: We should be welcoming Kiwis returning due to COVID-19, not abusing them

OPINION: A young journalist who I once worked with, and who I won't name here for the very reason I am writing this piece, posted a plea recently not to charge Kiwis living overseas for returning home. 

She lives in London, is employed and has so far sat out the COVID-19 pandemic there. She has no plans to return yet, but in her post pointed out if she loses her job she will have little option but to head back. 

Life in London is expensive for a 28-year-old journalist, the wages are better than here but the cost of living is much higher. 

If she lost her job and subsequently her flat she may be able to couch surf for a while, but her safety net in London is a lot thinner than it is here. 

She could probably afford the $6000 she estimates it would cost her to return home with the flight and quarantine costs if she was working, but if she loses her job her funds will run out quickly.  

She says she would be stuck between a rock and a hard place - not being able to afford to come home and not being able to afford to stay. 

The issue of Kiwis returning home, and the particular issue of whether they should pay for their quarantine costs, has been a hot topic of debate. 

Many people want New Zealand to start charging Kiwis returning home for quarantine, while others think we should close the border to everyone.

It has also caused an inhumane level of vitriol on social media as Kiwis turn on each other.  

Newshub journalist Lloyd Burr, who is on secondment in London as the European correspondent and who has written about how difficult it is to just uproot your life, tweeted a list of comments posted on social media about ex-pat Kiwis who want to come home. 

"What utter entitled scumbags. I hope you all catch COVID and die a horrific death from it, because the world would be a better place without you" said one person.  

"New Zealand doesn't want you we don't want the baggage your [sic]  bringing now stay the f&*k away," wrote another. 

While another poster said: "Too little too late losers." 

In March at the outset of the pandemic,  Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said, "If you can get home - come home now".  

This quote has been referred to often by people saying it is tough luck for Kiwis stranded on foreign land because they didn't get back soon enough. 

In an opinion piece, Burr wrote it was not easy for many Kiwis in Europe just to pack up and head home. 

"Not all of us can pack up our lives and move back to the other side of the world in the space of three months. Have you ever had to deal with British bureaucracy before? The rental contracts, the work contracts, car lease agreements, and all the other god-awful devilish British red-tape to work through, all in a country that's still locked down. 

"Then there's the flights (that are rare, exorbitantly priced and change a dozen times provided the airline doesn't collapse). And moving companies (that aren't running at full capacity because of supply chain delays). And organising transit visas or exemptions (which are VERY confusing). All before you even get to New Zealand," Burr wrote.  

Many returning Kiwis have reported being abused when they arrive home. The Guardian ran a story about a Kiwi called Ellen who was on the receiving end of social media backlash after she tweeted that she was surprised she was taken to Rotorua for her quarantine. Her tweet got an immediate backlash. 

"Stay away from us until you’re declared safe," one tweet said. 

The fact is if you have a New Zealand passport then you have a right to come home. If you are left financially stranded in a faraway land because you lost your job and possibly your home, then you have a right to return. 

You can't close the borders to New Zealanders. 

Whether these returning New Zealanders should pay for quarantine is open to debate, but it seems unfair to leave Kiwis stranded overseas because they can't afford to come back. 

As my mate in London pointed out Kiwis have been heading overseas for generations and have always been allowed to return. 

These New Zealanders have as much right to be here as any other Kiwi and we should be helping them return home in these troubled times, not demonising on social media when they do arrive. 

Mark Longley is the managing editor of Newshub Digital