Tongans in New Zealand are unhappy that several Tongan workers have disappeared after participating in a regional seasonal work program.
24 Tongans are now on the run after coming to New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employers Scheme, which brings people from several Pacific countries to work temporarily in New Zealand, mainly in the horticultural industry.
Australia runs a similar scheme.
The Tongan government has been warned the country could be removed from the scheme entirely if the number of Tongan workers who overstay isn't reduced.
The chair of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, says that the majority of New Zealand Tongans have no sympathy for the overstayers.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Melino Maka, chair of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council
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MAKA: We are not happy with some of the families who are harbouring the 24 people that came on the scheme, because they virtually ruined the chances of the other Tongans who are waiting to come on the scheme by staying over their time that is permitted by the scheme.
HILL: These 24 that are on the run that are in New Zealand illegally, would they be being harboured by Tongan families in New Zealand do you think?
MAKA: Yes obviously supported by some of their families here. And I would encourage them, to advise them to go home before they've been picked up by the immigration, and once you're deported you're banned for five years now. So that you go back and allow the scheme to go on, because you're quite selfish by looking after, you think that you've gained something out of it, but you're always on the run. Sooner or later you'll be picked up and sent home.
HILL: What about the atmosphere back in Tonga? How do people feel about these guys being on the run as well?
MAKA: You will find that there will be very little support for those who actually break the contract, because it's actually ruined the opportunities for the rest of the people waiting to come here.
HILL: Is it possible that if there continues to be a fairly sizeable number of Tongans who participate in the scheme who stay illegally that in fact Tonga could be removed from the list of countries participating in the scheme?
MAKA: That's what I heard that's been floating around and that's the fear that those of us who are supporting the scheme, because the New Zealand government will rightly say they will exclude Tonga because of those people, the high number of overstaying.
HILL: Why are there such a high number of Tongans in particular overstaying on this scheme, because the New Zealand statistics say that there are two each from Vanuatu and Samoa, and one from Kiribati, but 24 from Tonga, why so many Tongans abusing the scheme in this way?
MAKA: I think it's mainly influenced by family members who actually advise them that they're better off here, and maybe it's true in one sense, but you can't have the interests of the country ruined by only a handful of people who decided to do otherwise.
HILL: If this continues and if or when these guys that are on the run are in fact picked up and sent back to Tonga, what sort of reception might be waiting for them when they get back home?
MAKA: I don't think that they will have a very good reception because they ruined opportunities for others to come here. And if this continues then Tonga will be excluded from the scheme, which is a scheme that really delivers economic benefits for those families who actually needed the economic assistance.
HILL: Apart from appealing to the families that are harbouring these guys, is there anything that the Tongan community can do to find out where these guys are and perhaps talk to them and persuade them to give themselves up?
MAKA: Some of them, the families do know where they are and I think that the best thing to do is to ask them to return home. You're better off returning home voluntarily rather than being picked up and sent home and you are not allowed to come back for five years.