Yesterday, VICE NZ dropped the latest episode in our Zealandia series of documentaries, Gangsters in Paradise: Deportees in Tonga. In the 24 or so hours since, it’s been viewed some 600,000 times.
To celebrate the launch, VICE NZ hosted a screening and a panel discussion at Auckland’s Academy Cinema. During the talanoa, or dialogue, that followed the screening, we heard from moderator Anau Mesui-Henry, academics Edmond Fehoko and Daniel Hernandez, chair of the Tongan Advisory Council Melino Maka, and nurse Pelenaise Latu, whose brother is currently awaiting deportation to Tonga.
Here’s what they had to say.
“It seems like there’s a lot of different paths the deportees have taken. Is it entirely their problem? Is it entirely them to blame for their circumstances?” - Anau Mesui-Henry
“They go back to Tonga, and they’re just like immigrants… The country has to provide them with good health care, good education, a house. They come to New Zealand and it’s already in place for them. But for those that are deported back to Tonga, the country has to look at something that they can engage themselves with when they go back to the island.” - Pelenaise Latu
“It’s about empowerment really eh. It’s [about] empowering these returnees to feel like they are connected to their community. These returnees have been gone for so long, their culture is probably American or Kiwi and adopting certain cultures and certain mannerisms that are probably very different to Tongan ways. It's [about] empowering them to be connected to the community because, well, what else are you going to do with them really?” - Anau Mesui-Henry
“They start to think, ‘I’m a bad guy. Who cares? Nobody in the community or society accepts me.’” - Pelenaise Latu
“It’s so hard watching those guys, because they left Tonga. Somehow the way the fabric of home – whether it was in the US, Australia, New Zealand – was, when you look at them, quite dysfunctional… We tend to often ignore when most of our family comes here. We worry about work and church and often the kids become secondary.” - Melino Maka
“If New Zealand does not actually pay attention to what we are seeing, it’s going to backfire on New Zealand. We’re already seeing it.” - Melino Maka
“I have a nephew who was deported from the US about 20 years ago. And he’s in Tonga. What we did in Tonga was just wrap support around him, the family. Now he’s married with a young family.” - Melino Maka
“This is part of a larger issue. We saw a glimpse of a few different people’s lives. Both on the question of home and identity but also responsibility, and I think – just my opinion – the dominant societies that we live in, particularly in the West, are very individualistic. Oftentimes, blame gets put on an individual when there’s multiple factors involved… We can continue to focus on just individuals, but that’s not going to resolve the larger issues.” - Daniel Hernandez
“In all honesty, this is an ongoing issue, and believe it or not, it won’t be resolved in the near future. We’re going to have a lot of deportees. And to be honest, we need to start removing the [negative] perception around deportees." - Edmond Fehoko
“Imagine if you were a deportee going back to your country, the country that you have no identity with, no sense of belonging, and yet you’ve already been judged as a criminal – that sucks already.” - Edmond Fehoko
“For my brother it’s really hard and for him to accept the new life that he’s going to go back to.” - Pelenaise Latu