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Pansy Speak: In the eyes of a Father

Pansy Speak

Column by Pansy Wong, MP

In the eyes of a Father

“I came with a heavy heart and it has turned cold upon departure.” These are the words of Mr Wan, the father of the late Wan Biao, that were expressed to me during a conversation we had on April 27, just two days before the memorial service for his son. Mr Wan acknowledged the Police, Victim Support and the Chinese Consular Office for their assistance but said that otherwise there had been little official presence or guidance.

Wan Biao’s memorial service was organised by the International Buddhalight North Island Association – a group that has nothing to do with the international education sector. Felix, a Chinese friend of the family who works and lives in Auckland, looked after them during their stay. They were also accompanied by Kelvin, who had studied here as an international student for two years and had recommended New Zealand to Wan Biao. He felt some responsibility for his death, so he left his fledging business in China to offer support to Mr Wan.

Earlier last month, Knut and Anne-Marie Brauer flew in from Germany to visit the country that their daughter Birgit had loved and lost her life in. The public outpouring of sympathy for them, and from the residents of Oakura, in Taranaki, would have been a great comfort. The Brauers were moved by the support they received, and responded with a personal note in a thank-you card to Oakura residents that said: “We would like to thank all who shared and share our sorrow since we faced the loss of our daughter Birgit.” They travelled as guests of Rotary New Zealand, and Rodney Wong, the district governor, said all Kiwis shared the family’s sense of loss.

I didn’t meet Wan Biao. I only know the now-familiar photo of him issued shortly after his death which accompanied stories about gang killings, Chinese international students and Asian crime. He hasn’t been portrayed as an individual and, to many, he is just another victim of Asian crime and an example of how international students are viewed as a collective.

What people probably don’t realise is that he was the only son of Wan Guan Zhong. His mother was hospitalised shortly after finding out the news and still is in hospital, his 84-year-old grandfather was told that Biao had been injured in a car accident because they are concerned he won’t be able to deal with the real story. Their 10-year-old daughter will grow up without getting to know her elder brother.

Detective Inspector Bernie Hollewand gave a lengthy speech at the service that shed some insight into how the Police view Asian crime and Chinese international students. We were told that Asians made up 30% of the Auckland central population and were responsible for 6% of the crime. There had been four kidnapping cases in each of the past two years and, until Wan Biao’s case, none had resulted in death or an exchange of money.

Mr Hollewand had message for the many young students at the service to grieve for the loss of a friend – they had to make a bigger effort to integrate, extend their contacts and participate, otherwise they become isolated and vulnerable to crime. It was his experience that international students who got into trouble had poor attendance records and were overstayers.

It was strange for him to share these observations at a memorial service full of grieving family and friends. International students are told time and time again to integrate, and they are subject to backlash if they are seen to be socialising with people from the same country. I wonder how we would feel if Londoners got upset at the thousands of Kiwis who live and socialise together, or if the ex-pat’s group in Hong Kong was criticised for socialising together.

Kelvin, the person who recommended New Zealand to Wan Biao, told me that when he was studying here, he moved only between his home-stay and tertiary institution, and he wished there had been more organised activities for him and more chances to get to know the locals.

It is human nature for people from the same country to spend time together if they are away from home. I believe that leadership should be provided to co-ordinate our schools, tertiary institutions and private education providers to help international students find their way into the wider community.

I wonder what the Government, NZQA and Immigration have done with the advice and information that has no doubt been given to them by the Police. It seems to have fallen on deaf ears, because the Government’s proposals for regulating immigration consultants will exempt offshore immigration agents who deal with student visas. This is asking for trouble and shows their indifference to student welfare.

During our meeting, Mr Wan showed me three text messages he had received from his daughter’s school. The messages let parents know when their child arrives at school, what lessons and activities they are engaged in for the day, and what time they leave. I was told these messages are sent every day by all primary and secondary schools. I wonder how often the parents of international students hear from the school or institution their child is studying at. Mr Wan and his wife refused to believe the initial ransom call because they believed their son was in one of the safest places in the world.

Whenever I met with Mr Wan and Biao’s aunties, the tears never stopped flowing and there are no words to describe their feelings of loss and despair. I was dumbfounded to see that even during this destroying time they found the energy to show their appreciation for the Police by presenting Detective Inspector Bernie Hollewand with a plaque as a thank-you for the work done on their son’s case.

Mr Wan had one parting message for international students, and that was for them to look after themselves for the sake of their parents. For our justice system he wants to see justice for the victims.

While this is all unfolding, our Economic Development Minister, the Hon Trevor Mallard, is leading a delegation to India in an effort to recruit international students whom he says are worth $2 billion to our economy. He says the Indian market was estimated in 2005 to be worth $60 million, compared to $19.5 million five years ago. In 1998 there were about 164 Indian students in New Zealand compared to more than 3,340 last year.

Mr Mallard, international students are not just numbers. Many parents have entrusted their children to our country and it is time we understood that we are dealing with young people who have dreams, aspirations and vulnerabilities.

Pansy Wong


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