Tongan overstayers plead with Government for exemption, days before formal apology for Dawn Raids

Two days out from the Government's formal apology for the harmful Dawn Raids of the 1970s, a Tongan overstayer is pleading with officials to grant her, and thousands of others, permission to live in New Zealand legally. 

The formal apology will acknowledge the lasting negative impacts on the Pasifika community, but many advocates question if it goes far enough.  

Kennedy Maeakafa Fakana'ana'a-ki-Fualu is known to most as "the Tongan Robin Hood" - but there's no gang of merry men helping him and his cause. 

He and his wife spend every Friday packing up food for more than 50 Tongan families in need - families who are in New Zealand illegally. 

He's put his law degree on hold to help them put food on the table. 

"That's the thought that really breaks my heart, is that there are children going to bed on empty stomachs," he told Newshub. 

Kennedy is calling on the Government to go a step further in their apology over the Dawn Raids by granting an amnesty to the estimated 2500 Tongans overstaying their visas.

"I wish that things could change. I can't continue to do this forever."

One overstayer, Mele, is supported by Kennedy. The 30-year-old came to New Zealand in 2018 seeking a better life - but she hasn't felt welcome at all.

"I've been scared a lot you know, if the people know you're an overstayer, because you don't know on the other side who's your enemy."

Mele has a background in youth work and dreams of becoming a lawyer.

She's tried and failed to get residency - and acknowledges she should not be here. She is now risking it all to eventually bring over her teenage daughter who lives in Tonga, and says an amnesty would change her life. 

"I'm doing it for me but not only for me but I'm doing it for her. I need her to have a good future and a better life," she told Newshub. 

She and Kennedy will both be watching Sunday's apology - but for them, it's nowhere near enough.