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[Media Release - MFAI]

Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration


31 March 2020


Foreign Visitors urged to register with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration


Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) is encouraging all foreign visitors to register with MFAI as part of Cook Islands Government efforts to work with the Governments of those stranded by extensive international border closures and restrictions on eventual repatriation.

“While MFAI COVID-19 response efforts to date have prioritized minimizing border entry risks and supporting whole of society national preparedness and response, we are now able to avail some concerted effort to assisting foreign visitors, who through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to return home via normal means,” said Foreign Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.

For almost two weeks now, MFAI have worked closely with foreign visitors and multiple domestic and international partners including airlines, agencies and foreign governments to support return travel to home destination of more than 200 foreign visitors whose return travel plans have been upended by widespread international border closures, including for transit only purposes. “We are acutely aware of the distress caused by extensive restrictions on international movement and are doing all we can to ensure a safe, swift and coordinated approach under extremely challenging circumstances,” said Secretary Herrmann.

Working closely with the New Zealand and Australian Governments over the last two weeks, a significant number of those stranded were able to be repatriated via transit entry windows availed by both governments. Those transit entry windows have since closed as both New Zealand and Australia have closed borders to all countries but discussions with both governments are continuing on future possible arrangements.

MFAI have also been working with Germany and a handful of other governments to explore possible repatriation arrangements for their nationals, including possible state chartered aircraft arrangements as was utilized during the initial Wuhan outbreak in China. German Honourary Consul in the Cook Islands, Heinz Matysik has been proactive in working with MFAI, German nationals and the Germany Embassy in Wellington over the last 2 weeks “I cannot stress enough how important it is for every German national in the Cook Islands to register individually with the German Foreign Office. The website for registration is www.rueckholprogramm.de, and I would additionally urge German nationals to contact MFAI so they are registered for repatriation considerations.”

Currently registered with MFAI are some 100 foreign visitors still stranded in the Cook Islands, most from Europe, and the Ministry is calling on those who haven’t yet registered with MFAI to do so urgently.

Secretary Herrmann said “We’re working rapidly to ensure the information we have on foreign visitors in the Cook Islands is accurate and comprehensive. That data will be critical to our conversations with the Governments of these foreign nationals about how we might best support their safe return home without compromising the Cook Islands border and other response measures against COVID-19.”

As per most recent travel restrictions imposed by the Cook Islands Government, and New Zealand’s Covid-19 Level 4 nationwide lockdown, there have been no arrivals into the Cook Islands since Tuesday 24th March, and no future arrivals permitted through to the end of April. Air New Zealand has reduced flights to twice a week, the next flight is due in Friday. That flight will arrive empty of passengers but bring critical cargo including medical supplies and be able to transport on the return flight to Auckland urgent COVID-19 test samples and New Zealand nationals currently in Rarotonga returning home.

Said Secretary Herrmann, “The Cook Islands Government, through MFAI, remains committed to working closely with partner governments as we continue national and global efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is important that we continue to avail the full gamut of consular support to those foreign nationals within our shores, just as we would expect that support be extended by partner governments to our nationals currently stranded abroad”.

Foreign visitors yet to register with MFAI are urged to contact MFAI on telephone +682 29-347 or email Michelle Elia-Siloata, Foreign Service Officer, at michelle.siloata@cookislands.gov.ck or Taryn Elia, Senior Immigration Officer, at taryn.elia@cookislands.gov.ck. If emailing, please provide the following information;

· Full name

· Nationality

· Return Destination

· Current contact information in the Cook Islands (address and contact phone number)

Queries regarding this media release can be directed to MFAI Director International and Trade Division Karo Ngatoko at Karopaerangi.ngatoko@cookislands.gov.ck

[END.]


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