A Christchurch widow who witnessed the mosque attacks plans on leaving New Zealand after her daughter became a target of hate crime and now fears for her life.

Seham El Wakil will be the fifth woman widowed by the Christchurch terror attack to leave the country, with her two children, after her daughter faced racial abuse at school. She wants to go back to Egypt with her children but in doing so will lose the financial support she is eligible for while living in New Zealand. That has led to calls for support to be given to the widows no matter where they are in the world.

Hamimah Tuyan, who also lost her husband in the attacks, left the country in 2019 but is now back here living in Aotearoa. Regardless of location, widows support should be offered beyond the shoreline, she said.

“But this is the plea, that our status does not go away just because we go overseas. There are some of us who need that space to find healing.” She said leaving New Zealand for a time had benefited her greatly. She came back more focused and ready to be part of making societal change around the public’s view of Islam.

She decided to come back so she and her sons could be part of creating important change around how Muslims are viewed in New Zealand, which she said was an act of courage and faith and “part of the healing process”. She wanted to make herself available to anyone who had questions about her faith and was struggling with bias or racism to start a conversation.

“I am available, I am here,” she said.

“I can benefit others most by physically being here rather than being frustrated many kilometers away in Singapore,” she said. Not all widows felt this way and it was important that their lived experience and healing process was acknowledged and supported, she said.

Raf Manji spent nearly two years working with the affected community and said exceptions should be made for victims to support them financially even if they chose to live overseas.

In November 2019, Manji reported on the distribution of donated funds and made recommendations to the government. He noted there were “many young widows with young children. They are highly vulnerable and will need significant support to navigate the next few years, which will be challenging on many levels.”

He said many widows shared concerns over their safety in New Zealand and were still very anxious. “A lot of them carry personal alarms … but many are still living in the perpetual space of anxiety and for some of them it’s about getting out and not having that in their mind all the time.” He believed the government needed to take a less “hardline response”.

“It’s [the] government’s responsibility, and I don’t think they have been doing enough or taking the right approach.”

“Say ‘look, we’ll support you for the next 3-5 years, cover their income, and support them to get back into training, learning English and equip them to enter the workforce because they’re on their own now’.”