Aotearoa has long been a home for migrants. With 160 different ethnic groups living here, and a quarter of those living here born elsewhere, New Zealand's migrants have come for many reasons – from opportunity and freedom, to better education for themselves and their children.
Some even came because they saw a new kind of politics in action – a Government that seemed intent on living its kindness, a prime minister young and relatable, and a country that aspired to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.
Covid-19 has changed us all. Those fortunate enough to live in Aotearoa have been largely shielded from the worst of it. The borders closed just over a year ago. Most people are hugely grateful to a Government that was decisive in those early days and has allowed life to carry on as normal. Migrants are perhaps more aware than many, given that most of us have family who live overseas.
I attended the split migrant families protest last month outside Parliament. Their stories were harrowing: dads who had left 4-day-old babies in South Africa just before lockdown, who haven't seen them since; nurses caring for the elderly who also left babies behind in India and the Philippines. They came to Aotearoa because their skills were needed; teachers; doctors; IT professionals.
Some arrived and left their families behind to tie up loose ends, assuming they'd be able to bring them in after a few months. Then the border closed, and families were split. Now we have 4-year-old children being diagnosed with depression because they've not seen one of their parents in over a year. Surely, it's time to say this is unacceptable.
Migrants here recognise that the border is Aotearoa New Zealand's best defence against Covid-19. But it grates when that border is open for millionaires from the America's Cup, and The Wiggles, and the 160-strong cast of The Lion King.
The sports and cultural events these people support are nice to have, and probably good for the economy. But these kinds of events aren't more important than bringing families back together. They're also not as important as making sure that Aotearoa New Zealand lives up to its commitments to all children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including ensuring that they all have equal access to good quality education, that they are not discriminated against, and that they are loved, safe and nurtured.
Many of the issues around immigration here started long before Covid-19. Successive governments have promised to cut net migration, and the problems we are seeing now with the residence programme are the result.
It's not just split families that are suffering. It's all the stressed and worried parents who have no certainty of their long-term status here. It's the parents of children with disabilities who are told, once they are here, that their child is not eligible for a student visa because of health issues. A 5-year-old, sat at home, unable to make new friends or start his education. The teenagers also stuck at home unable to enrol in university because their parents – as non-residents – would have to pay international student fees and can't afford them.
Migrants who are suffering in these types of situations are too often told to "go home". But they've made this their home, often having given up everything to come here.
For decades, Aotearoa New Zealand has marketed itself as open for skilled migration. It has a billion-dollar international education industry, which has long relied on a promise that people who study here will have a right to work, and eventually a right to residence and citizenship.
This Government has spoken extensively about kindness and compassion for our "team of five million" – but, especially in light of the recent ban on flights from India, it has often felt that migrants are not part of that team.
In the past month, several migrant associations, representing around 80,000 migrants in Aotearoa New Zealand have come together to make the case for change. This week (May 12 and 13), FAM – the Federation of Aotearoa Migrants – will be hosting peaceful protests
around the country.
Our children and whānau are suffering, and stopping this suffering is an easy fix. Grant permanent residence to those on temporary work visas who are already here, and allow phased re-entry of migrants stuck offshore so that families can be back together as soon as possible.
Yes, let's have a reasonable discussion about the future of immigration here, but don't penalise those who have come in good faith.
Let's show a little of the Kiwi kindness and fairness in action. We are here. This is our home too.
• Charlotte te Riet Scholten-Phillips is Save the Children New Zealand's
international programmes manager – and a migrant.