By RNZ Pacific
Jacinda Ardern has paid tribute to the three Fijians who died in last year’s Christchurch mosque shootings.
Ardern spoke today at Lautoka Mosque as part of her trip to Fiji to remember Imam Hafiz Musa Patel, Ashraf Ali Razak and Ashraf Ali, who died almost a year ago.
She also thanked the Fijian community for their response in the aftermath.
“I want to place on record our deep appreciation for the many messages of support and sympathy we received from Fiji following the March 15 attacks, it gave us strength to know that you stood in solidarity with us,” she said.
“But it was especially moving to receive those messages when you faced your own grief.”
She said she still recalls visiting the hall the day after the attack where hundreds of members of the Muslim community were gathered.
“Amongst them was the wife of one of your fallen, I still remember talking with her as she desperately looked for her husband and feeling pained to leave her with the Red Cross.
‘Darkest of hours’
“In your darkest of hours I can tell you I will never forget your grief,” she said.
She said she has been so moved by the generosity of the muslim faith.
The prime minister has also put out a call to find “Heather from Papanui” – a woman who helped the wife of Imam Patel the morning after the attack.
“She drove Mrs Patel around Christchurch helping to find her husband with her… Mrs Patel would like to find Heather from Papanui.”
Ardern told her “being New Zealand, being the community we are, I’m sure that we can find her and pass on her deep gratitude”.
“She tells me that she just asked Heather to drive her around Christchurch until she found a crowd of people because she thought that she would find information amongst that crowd – and that is where I found Mrs Patel”.
And the message to Heather from Papanui: “Thank you for embodying the New Zealand generosity and kindness we saw in the moments after that attack and I hope we can reunite you with Mrs Patel.”
Emotion still raw
It had only been a year since the shootings so the emotion was still raw, Ardern said, but it was a chance for her to meet at least one of the family members she had met in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
The grandson of Ashraf Ali Razak, Mohammed Iftikar Ali said it was fate because his grandfather was not supposed to be in Christchurch that day, but he made a stop over on his way to Australia to visit a sick relative.
He appreciated the prime minister’s visit and said it was comforting.
“She was so warm in how she was explaining how sorry she was, it is none of our fault, but it was fate to be done and we are really thankful for her to be here,” he said.
“We really miss who we lost, he can’t be replaced.”
The niece, Saliman Bibi said Ardern told them she was sorry for their loss.
‘Lost with words’
“I was just lost with words I couldn’t say anything, I just felt great she is here, she is with us in our soul,” she said.
Ardern also spoke of the commitment to ensure these attacks never happen again.
She then spoke about the moves the government had taken to address weaknesses in gun legislation and to tackle extremist content online.
However, she added it is not just politicians or those in positions of power who can honour those who have died.
“Immediately after the attacks, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on all Fijians across all backgrounds and faiths to join him in making a pledge: whereever you encounter someone who says something racist and hateful, whether it is online or in person, say something.
He said, “Be the voice of love. Be the voice of change.”
Today marked the last day of the prime minister’s trip to Fiji, this evening she will be leaving for Australia where she will be meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday.
This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.