Fijian couple separated by closed borders renew wedding vows in video call minutes before husband dies – Pacific Beat

Five minutes after renewing their wedding vows via video call, Iva Qounadovu’s husband Apenisa Uluirewa took his last breath.

She was taking the train to work in Sydney on a Monday morning, surrounded by strangers, and he was lying in bed, thousands of miles away in Fiji, with loved ones by his side.

The couple officially married in a civil ceremony in Fiji in 2019, just before Ms Qounadovu moved to Australia, but it was important for them to get married in a church.

Just days before Mr Uluirewa died, the couple were chatting on the phone, planning their dream wedding ceremony at a cathedral in Parramatta.

“Every time I passed by the church, I would take a picture and send it to her,” Ms. Qounadovu told ABC’s Pacific Beat show.

They had even started buying decorations for the big day, patiently awaiting the opening of international borders.

“It was going to be a little Fijian wedding, but it was going to be so special that we were [planning to have] here in Australia, ”she said.

Ms Qounadovu moved to Sydney in October 2019 to study and split from her husband and 11-year-old son when the pandemic struck.

After almost two years apart, things were starting to look positive with discussions of a travel bubble between countries.

Then, in September of this year, Mr. Uluirewa was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.

There was nothing the doctors could do and he was sent home with palliative care.

As her health began to deteriorate rapidly, their hopes of seeing each other again were shattered.

Going to Fiji was also not an option: there were no flights and even if she could get there, Ms Qounadovu would have to quarantine herself for two weeks – time her husband did not have. not.

So, the couple decided to organize their wedding ceremony by video call.

“We asked the priest to come the next day,” Ms. Qounadovu said.

“It took place in a bedroom. He was sitting on the bed. And they just prepared the altar next to it.”

The couple renewed their vows and then Mr. Qounadovu asked a relative to bring the camera closer to him.

“I could tell he was in pain,” Ms. Qounadovu said.

“He looked at me and he smiled and I said ‘I love you’, and that’s when he took his last breath.”

Mr. Uluirewa died five days after his diagnosis.

As Ms Qounadovu deals with her grief, she desperately seeks to return to Fiji to pick up her son and bring him back to Sydney, so that she can continue to study and work.

But if she leaves Australia, there is little certainty as to when she will be able to return.

Fully vaccinated Australian citizens can now travel abroad and return to certain states, but the path for non-citizens to enter or re-enter the country is more difficult.

Home Secretary Karen Andrews said Australia was working to ease restrictions on other cohorts.

“Temporary visa holders can rest assured that we are working on this as a priority,” she said.

Ultimately, it’s up to state governments to decide who can and can’t get in – and each has slightly different rules.

New South Wales will begin accepting international students in the county in December, but the number is strictly capped at 250 per fortnight.

Only students from certain countries will be allowed entry, with Fiji not included, according to the NSW government.

Ms Qounadovu said she hopes this will change.

“Our hopes and dreams as a family don’t end there… it’s just a detour we have to take,” she said.

“She is in tears”
It is a difficult situation shared by Papua New Guinea citizen John Duhube, who has been separated from his Australian partner since March of last year.

“Every day she calls me, she is in tears… I have missed her for almost two years now,” Mr. Duhube said.

The couple met in 2013 while she was hiking the Kokoda Trail and working as a tour guide.

A man wearing a hiking backpack standing on the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Duhube fears Western Australia will allow Papua New Guinea to visit anytime soon. (Supplied: John Duhube)
But with her in Western Australia and him in PNG, they are waiting for the borders to reopen before reuniting.

“I don’t know when I can return to Australia… it’s very difficult for me,” said Duhube.

He fears Western Australia will not allow Papua New Guinea to surrender anytime soon due to the country’s low vaccination rate and high number of COVID-19 cases.

But others are more positive.

Australian Tourism Industry Council chairman Evan Hall told the ABC he expects fully vaccinated foreign nationals to be able to travel to all Australian states and territories without having to put themselves in quarantine by mid-February 2022.

For some states, this can happen even earlier.

“It really depends on when the Australian government opens international arrivals for the different visa classes for foreign nationals,” Hall said.

“On behalf of all of Australia, we look forward to seeing our guests from overseas.

“The wait has been a bit long.

PNG’s national carrier, Air Niugini, announced special flights from Port Moresby to Sydney last week due to high demand.

“Travel is initially limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and holders of special visas. We expect this to expand to business travelers and tourists soon after,” the airline said in a statement.

The first tourist flights to Fiji will also begin on December 1.

James B. Helms