Dozens of people affected by the Christchurch mosque shootings have returned to New Zealand ahead of this month’s sentencing.
Minister Megan Woods said 53 people – including some from Australia – were currently in NZ’s managed isolation facilities, quarantining for a fortnight so they can either participate or support family.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 29, will be sentenced for his atrocity in a multi-day hearing in Christchurch’s High Court beginning August 24.
Tarrant was convicted of 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in March after reversing his initial plea.
High Court Justice Cameron Mander has withheld the sentencing until now to allow the full participation of as many victims as possible.
Ms Woods, a Christchurch-based MP, said she was pleased to be able to overcome COVID-19 and facilitate the movement of people.
“They’re just incredibly pleased that in the middle of a global pandemic, where it is incredibly difficult to move around the world, that they have been able to travel here,” she told Radio NZ.
Ms Woods said among the cohort were 34 victims and 13 support people, who had travelled “to be able to support their family members, many of whom are those who lost immediate family members, fathers and brothers and so forth, in the shootings”.
New Zealand is currently battling a fresh COVID-19 outbreak, with a cluster in Auckland putting the city into lockdown and the rest of the country on alert settings.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the court would have contingencies in place to ensure the sentencing went ahead, via videolink or other technologies.
“What we need to ensure is their ability to share victim impact statements,” she said.
“We already had some limitations around the numbers who are able to participate.”
Of the group, 28 were New Zealand citizens and 25 needed an exemption to enter the country, travelling from Australia, United Kingdom, Turkey, Jordan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore.
Ms Woods said they were happy to comply with the compulsory quarantine.
“The list of countries … where some of the people coming from (show) that it is vitally important that we do have that 14 days of managed isolation, so that we can continue to keep COVID-free,” she said.
“The feedback I’ve had from the the Muslim communities here in Christchurch is they want to make sure that COVID is kept out of New Zealand.”
The group won’t pay for their quarantine as they arrived before the government’s charging regime kicked in.
“This group is coming in at a particularly traumatic time,” she said.
“We’re working with police who have liaison members with each of the families.
“The Court is also aware of the need to take what steps it can to minimise the re-traumatisation of victims and their families and avoid, to the extent possible, the hearing causing further potential harm.”
Last month, it was revealed that Tarrant’s stay in an Auckland prison was costing about $NZ2 million ($A1.84 million) a year.
He is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.