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 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 overseas since 1955.
Planning for the repatriations is well underway. We are in contact with family representatives of most 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. The liaison officers will be making contact with families in mid-November.
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.
First, the decision to repatriate will be made by the family. In the next few months, we will make an offer to the family outlining how the repatriation will happen, but the final decision to repatriate will be made by the family.
Second, there will be equality in the manner in which those who are buried abroad are repatriated. By equality, we mean that regardless of background, status, wealth, or cause of death everyone will be treated the same.
Third, the repatriation processes will be in accordance with current New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) policies, which include NZDF cultural protocols in the repatriation, and observing family protocols and customs in the re-interments.
What's happening now?
The Defence Force project manager, disinterment team leader, and New Zealand’s Defence Attaché in Kuala Lumpur conducted a concept development conference and joint site surveys of the graves with the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) in late October. The MAF will be providing significant logistic, forensic, and archaeologic support during the disinterment of remains from three cemeteries in Malaysia. 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 of Heritage.
We are in contact with government and supporting agencies 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 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 five countries.
We are communicating with families through the representative they have nominated. We have not yet located seven families of deceased service personnel but we are continuing to make enquiries so we are confident we have attempted to reach as many families as possible.
A repatriation timeline and detailed plan is being developed, including plans for ceremonies to bless the sites before exhumation, 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.