Chief Ombudsman to investigate MIQ booking system after complaints from stranded Kiwis who can't get home

Human rights lawyers are lining up to take on the Government over the troubled managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) booking system that's left thousands of Kiwis unable to get home.

The Chief Ombudsman revealed to Newshub on Tuesday he's received a number of complaints, and is making it a priority to investigate.

Kiwi Bergen Graham is 26 weeks' pregnant with her first baby and considered high-risk. She's been trying for months to get home.

"We don't need visas, we don't need anything… all I'm asking for is a hotel room," she said.

As soon as she learned she was pregnant in El Salvador, she's been hitting refresh on the MIQ website.

"All I've been told is I have a rare blood type. I need to be seeing the same doctor the whole time so I can be monitored at 28 weeks. I need to get a test done… and that's scary, you know?"

With no MIQ spots, she and her husband are now stuck in transit in the US.

Even though she has a specialist's letter confirming she needs to get home, our Government won't make a special case. She's been told "you're not sick enough". 

"To be told I have to stay here and prepare to be here illegally to have my child here - it is just ridiculous."

Human rights lawyers say her case is one of many, and the Government could find itself facing a judicial review. 

"I think the Government is straying into territory where it would be found to be unreasonable, unnecessary, irrational and a breach of people's human rights," explains Frances Joychild QC.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins admits there's "no question there are limitations on the number of people who can come in here at the moment".

The Chief Ombudsman told Newshub he's "received a number of complaints" about the MIQ booking system. He's met with the Ministry boss overseeing it and says it'll be a matter of priority.

Almost 10,000 expats and locals have now signed the 'Grounded Kiwis' petition, calling for a fairer MIQ booking system, even a waitlist, and tweaks that'd see double-vaccinated returnees rewarded.

"A shortened MIQ stay combined with home isolation, people are saying they are happy to accept fines if they breach it, other people are saying we are happy to wear ankle bracelets - they will do anything to be able to get home," says petition founder Alexandra Birt, who's in the UK and trying to get home.

Hipkins says watch this space.

"MIQ won't be the only way of coming into the country in the future. We can't put a direct timetable on that, but a lot of work is going on in that space."

Over the next two weeks, the number of MIQ rooms allocated will fluctuate from 4800 to 4300, allowing for deep cleaning in between big intakes.

Simply opening up more hotels and rooms is not an answer, according to the Government. It has 4500 staff already across 31 facilities but a limited number of police, Defence Force and health staff to run them safely.

Hotels must also meet certain criteria; they must be close to a hospital and lab-testing, have proper ventilation and a large-scale commercial kitchen.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says that's not always easy to find.