A class of 10-year-old primary school students have challenged Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to change his mind and grant China's grieving shidu parents lifelong visas to visit their children's graves.

The year six Bayfield School pupils posted letters to the minister on Tuesday, expressing their anger, frustration and disappointment at his refusal to offer long-term visitor visas to Chinese parents who lost their only child in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

In the letters, the 27 students asked the minister to show "mercy", questioned how he would feel if he lost his only child in a disaster in a foreign country and said they felt "ashamed" over the way the shidu parents had been treated.

"I know your job is hard, having to make a lot of difficult decisions, but on this one you are making a mistake," 10-year-old Maya Brophy wrote.

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Eva Simmonds, 10, said: "I'm ashamed. This isn't the country that the shidu parents trusted and that we trusted."

Last month, a Herald investigation uncovered the plight of China's shidu parents - those who lost the only child they were ever allowed to have in the CTV building, the sole building that completely collapsed in the Christchurch quake due to engineering deficiencies.

Zhi-Ping Lai's 27-year-old daughter died in the CTV building collapse. He has
Zhi-Ping Lai's 27-year-old daughter died in the CTV building collapse. He has "no idea" how to apply for a visitor's visa to New Zealand, but he wants to see his daughter's grave. Photo by Mike Scott

These parents pleaded for the Government to grant them lifelong visas to they could visit and clean their children's graves every year, as per the annual Chinese tradition of tomb sweeping.

READ MORE:
Chinese quake parents want lifelong visas
Growing calls for lifelong visas to be granted to shidu parents
• Editorial: Give parents of quake victims an open invitation

This request was declined by Woodhouse, who said he felt sympathetic for the families but was not considering providing special assistance to them by way of a lifelong visitor visa. A spokeswoman for Woodhouse's office told the Herald yesterday the minister had "nothing to add to the previous statements he has made in regards to this matter".

Immigration New Zealand area manager Darren Calder confirmed the law does allow for exceptions to visa policies under compassionate or humanitarian grounds.

Bayfield Primary School teacher James Graham assigned his class to read the Herald story and write to the minister because he thought the exercise would "stir emotion, compassion and empathy" in his students.

He said he was both surprised and impressed at the level of maturity the students had demonstrated in their letters.

"You don't want writing to sit in kids' books and be put away at the end of the day. It's always best if learning can have an end result and our end result is sending these letters. The kids feel really impassioned by that because they know someone will be reading them and that their ideas and opinions will be heard."

The best result for the students would be receiving a letter back from the minister, Graham said.

"It would really make these kids be aware that even though they are young, they still have a voice," he said.

Chinese citizens are eligible for long-term entry visas, allowing them to visit New Zealand multiple times over three years. But, speaking through a translator, the shidu parents told the Herald they did not know how to apply for these visas and some did not own a computer and could not afford the application fees.

They wanted to be granted an annual visa exemption to avoid having to undergo the bureaucratic and financial barriers every three years.

Angus Baker, 10, from Bayfield School in Herne Bay, Auckland, writes his personal letter to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse. Photo by Greg Bowker
Angus Baker, 10, from Bayfield School in Herne Bay, Auckland, writes his personal letter to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse. Photo by Greg Bowker

In their own words:


Max De Witte, 10
'I would like to know why you won't let these poor parents visit and sweep their daughter's grave as their tradition allows. Put yourself in their shoes. How devastated would you be? I truly think you are making a mistake.'

Devin Joyce, 10
'Dear Honorable Minister Michael Woodhouse, I understand that being in your position must be hard but you need to start making your decisions the right ones. You should have some mercy for these poor miserable parents. Someone has to own up to the tragedy that happened on that day.'

Eva Simmonds, 10
'Imagine the shock and depressing moments the heart-broken parents had and have yet to come. It would be unbearable to realise your only daughter has been lost in our country in a faulty building that should have been checked by our government, but for unknown reasons, wasn't."

Angus Baker, 10
'I believe you should allow the shidu parents to get a life long visa, but with conditions. They should only be allowed to visit twice a year on their child's birthday and the 4th or 5th of April as it is the Chinese tomb sweeping day.'

Sophie England, 9
'How would you feel if you were in these families position and your daughter died and you couldn't visit her? Imagine going to sleep at night knowing that your daughter isn't in her room and is up in the sky? I know that I wouldn't be able to handle it. How about you?'

Maya Brophy, 10
'I think that you, Michael Woodhouse, should do something about this issue and I would like to know why you aren't. How would you feel if you only had one child who died in an earthquake and to make matters worse a long way from home in a foreign country? Just think about this, please.'

Stephanie Holden, 9
'With no retirement scheme and no one to look after them the least we could do is let these poor shidu parents see their daughter's grave and sweep it. I would be ashamed if I was responsible for making these shidu parents more depressed.'

Labella Annett, 10
'The building that collapsed was not properly designed and people should not have been allowed to be in the building. Because it is New Zealand's property, someone should take responsibility for this tragedy. The Chinese shidu parents have a really tough and feared future ahead of them.'

Aniela Farac, 10
'These parents haven't lost their only child, but the only child they were ever allowed to have. I know you have one of the most difficult jobs in New Zealand, but saying the parents aren't allowed to have a visitor visa makes me strongly disagree with you.'

Harriet Hope, 10
'Please Minister Michael Woodhouse, make the right decision and let these devastated parents have the rights to enter New Zealand.'