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) has been directed by the New Zealand Government to implement and manage the repatriation project. The name of the project is Te Auraki (The Return).
The Chief of Defence Force will report back to Government in early 2018 with a detailed plan and cost of the repatriations from Malaysia and Singapore. The report will also explore the option of extending the offer of repatriation to cover other Service personnel and dependants buried in Fiji, American Samoa, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Korea since 1955.
Planning for the repatriations is well underway. We are in contact with family representatives of all of the Service personnel and dependants 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 will 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.
The graves at each of the cemeteries, including Kranji in Singapore, have been maintained immaculately by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of New Zealand’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
What's happening now?
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.
Late last year families were given the outline plan to repatriate their relative. They 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. This information allows the project team to develop an integrated plan and timeline for all of the repatriations.
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 chosen by families.
New Zealand’s disinterment team is being 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. The team will conduct exhumations and identifications in up to nine cemeteries in six countries.