What's happening now?
We have contacted family members of 28 of the 36 people buried in Malaysia and Singapore that could be repatriated to New Zealand. We will continue to make enquiries so we are confident we have attempted to reach as many families as possible. The project manager and exhumation team leader are visiting Singapore and Malaysia in September 2017 to visit the sites and initiate engagement with representatives of the countries that have looked after the graves of New Zealanders so well for so long.
Who will be repatriated?
The New Zealand Government has agreed to the repatriation of Service personnel and dependants interred or reinterred in Singapore and Malaysia since 1 January 1955, subject to family wishes in the first instance.
The Government has also tasked the Chief of Defence Force with exploring the option of extending this policy to cover the other 13 post-1954 burials, and reporting back to Cabinet with a proposal.
Who will manage the repatriation process?
The New Zealand Defence Force has been mandated by the New Zealand Government to implement and manage the repatriation project.
What are the next steps?
The decision to repatriate lies with the deceased Service person’s family. An offer to families will be made to those whose family members are buried in Singapore or Malaysia. If a family does not wish to repatriate, the deceased Service person’s grave will continue to be looked after as has previously occurred.
The NZDF will establish a project team in mid-2017 to begin scoping and planning the repatriation. Consultation with families will be an integral part of this process.
The NZDF will also seek professional advice and expertise regarding all stages of the repatriation.
The New Zealand Defence Force will also undertake further work to explore the option of extending the offer of repatriation to other New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial since 1 January 1955.
Why is the 1955 policy change taken as a reference point?
All burials up to the 1955 policy change were treated equally in that all those who died overseas were buried overseas close to where they died. This policy was adhered to without exception and gained widespread public acceptance.
The 1955 policy introduced inequalities between those families who could and those who could not afford to repatriate, and was administered in an inconsistent fashion.
How has military repatriation policy changed over time?
Between 1899 and 1955, New Zealand government policy for Service personnel who died overseas was that they should be buried close to where they died and not be repatriated to New Zealand. The underlying principle was that there should be equality in the manner in which the dead were buried and commemorated, regardless of background, status, wealth or cause and location of death.
In early 1955 New Zealand overseas burial policy changed. The new policy allowed families to repatriate Service personnel who died overseas for burial at home, provided that the families agreed to pay the costs of repatriation.
Overseas burial policy changed again in early 1971. Since that date New Zealand’s policy has been to repatriate at public expense all Service personnel and their dependents who die while serving overseas. It has also been policy since that time not to repatriate the remains of those who were already interred overseas. This policy was last considered and reconfirmed by Cabinet in 2007.
How much will repatriation cost?
The planning and scoping process has been allocated $750,000 in 2017/2018.