Te Auraki (The Return)
In April 2017 the Government extended an offer to families of Service personnel and dependants buried abroad since 1 January 1955 to repatriate them at public expense.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) was directed to implement and manage the repatriation project. The name of the project is Te Auraki (The Return).
In late March 2018, the Government directed that, depending on family preferences, all Service personnel and dependants who were buried or reburied abroad since 1 January 1955 are repatriated as part of Te Auraki, regardless of where they are currently interred.
You can read the Minister for Veterans’ announcement here:
Depending on family preferences, the NZDF anticipates repatriating 36 personnel in four tranches from six countries:
- Three Service personnel from Fiji and American Samoa were returned to New Zealand on 7 May 2018.
- 27 Service personnel and one child from Malaysia and one Service person from Singapore will be repatriated as one group and will arrive in New Zealand in mid-late August 2018.
- Two Service personnel from the United Kingdom will be returned to New Zealand in mid-September 2018.
- Two Service personnel from the Republic of Korea will be returned to New Zealand in mid-October 2018.
Planning for the repatriations from Malaysia and Singapore is well underway. We are in contact with family representatives of all of the personnel that could be repatriated. We are communicating with families directly, and not through third parties or the media. A Defence Force Liaison Officer has been allocated to each family to support families, provide information on the project’s progress, and receive decisions on matters associated with the repatriation.
We are committed to making sure that the repatriation is well managed and co-ordinated so the return of loved ones is conducted with respect and dignity. To that end we have established three principles that feature in the management of Te Auraki.
1. The decision to repatriate should be made by the deceased person’s family and re-interments will be informed by family preferences.
2. There should be equality in the manner in which those who are interred abroad are repatriated; that is, equality regardless of background, status, wealth, or cause of death.
3. The repatriation processes should be in accordance with current NZDF policies. This principle ensures that remains are returned using the NZDF’s contemporary cultural and military protocols until they are handed over to families, particularly the application of NZDF tikanga associated with repatriating bodies from abroad.
What's happening now?
The remains of two airmen from Suva and one sailor from Pago Pago were handed over to their families at ceremony at RNZAF Base Ohakea on Monday 7 May 2018.
We are working with relevant authorities in each of the countries to ensure the repatriations are conducted sensitively and in accordance with local requirements, regulations, and protocols.
New Zealand’s disinterment team for Malaysia and Singapore has been selected and will include specialists in forensic anthropology, bio-archaeology, and forensic dentistry and will apply international best practice to identify the remains of the deceased.
Families are providing the project team with their decisions on matters such as the location and timing of the re-interment, preferred funeral director, and any additional support they would like from the NZDF during the re-interments.
These plans include agreeing on the religious, spiritual, and cultural protocols that will be conducted during each stage of the journey home, identification protocols to ensure we meet New Zealand coronial requirements, departure ceremonies from countries, arrival ceremonies in New Zealand, and re-interments at sites and times chosen by families.
Handing the Remains to Families
Arrival ceremonies will be conducted in New Zealand for each group arriving home. The handing over of the remains to families is a private occasion when families are reunited with their loved ones.
All ceremonies will follow a similar format and will include a guard of honour of Service personnel, haka and pōwhiri. Attendance is restricted to a senior representative of the nation, a small group of senior Defence Force officers, and family members of the returning personnel.
Diplomatic representatives from the country the personnel are being repatriated from, and a representative from veterans’ communities relevant to the group being returned home will be invited to witness the arrival.