The families of New Zealand military personnel, and their dependants, buried overseas between 1955 and 1971 in Singapore and Malaysia will be offered the opportunity to repatriate their loved ones.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister David Bennett says this decision comes as a result of recommendations by the Veterans’ Advisory Board and the advocacy of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association and families affected, and has thanked them for their important contributions.
“Following the efforts by families to have their loved ones brought home, the Government last year asked the Veterans’ Advisory Board to look into New Zealand’s repatriation policy. The Board identified a number of inconsistencies, and the Government has listened.
“New Zealand had an inconsistent policy of repatriation between 1955 and 1971. Families could opt to meet repatriation costs themselves, but not all could afford to do so. Other civil servants were also repatriated. We want to restore fairness for those families affected.”
Mr Bennett says the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) will also look at extending the offer to the families of New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial between 1955 and 1971 in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Korea, and the United Kingdom, and all countries involved have been contacted.
The NZDF will oversee the repatriation process, including consultation with the families, and the planning and subsequent return of any bodies.
“The decision on whether or not to bring the bodies home will be the families’ to make,” Mr Bennett says.
“If they choose not to repatriate, the graves will continue to be cared for under current agreements. We will support the families through this process.”
Mr Bennett also thanked the Malaysian and Singaporean governments for caring for the New Zealanders interred in their cemeteries.
The Government will provide an initial $750,000 to the NZDF to establish the project group. Further funding to allow the bodies to be returned will be made available once the full cost is identified.
Who will be repatriated?
Any service personnel or dependant of service personnel buried in Malaysia or Singapore from 1 January 1955 to 1 January 1971 will be eligible to be repatriated to New Zealand. The decision will be up to their families to make.
Who will manage the repatriation process?
The NZDF will implement and manage the repatriation project.
What are the next steps?
The NZDF will now consult with affected families about whether or not they want their loved ones returned. NZDF will be contacting those families, though the families are also welcome to get in touch with NZDF if they wish to do so.
The NZDF is also exploring the option of extending the offer of repatriation to other New Zealanders interred as a result of a military burial between 1955 and 1971 in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Korea, and the United Kingdom, and all countries involved have been contacted.
The NZDF is encouraging families to register with them by calling Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand on 0800 483 8372 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is the 1955 policy change taken as a reference point and how has repatriation changed over time?
The policy between 1899 and 1955 was to bury service personnel who died overseas close to where they died and not be repatriated to New Zealand. This policy was adhered to without exception.
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.
Over that period administrative arrangements for the care of our overseas dead have included the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Ministry of Defence, the Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea, and service level agreements with local authorities in a variety of countries.
In early 1955 New Zealand overseas burial policy changed to allow families to repatriate Service Personnel who died overseas for burial at home, at the families’ own expense, which created inequity.
In 1971 the policy changed again, whereby the Government would offer to repatriate at public expense all service personnel and their dependents who died 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. Further funding will be made available once the NZDF steering group has completed its consultations and planning process.
When will the remains be returned? That will be considered by the NZDF project group as part of the consultation and planning process.
How many remains will this process cover?
The remains of least 36 Service personnel and dependants have been identified that could be initially repatriated.