PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2000, 12:00am

Having lived in Australia for over a year, I was appalled to hear of the fire in a backpackers' hostel in Childers and the subsequent deaths from this appalling tragedy.

I know several people who work in hostels on the east coast and my initial concern was for my friends. Although I was relieved to find out that no one I know was involved, my heart still went out to the victims of this tragedy. As a result, I have been following the story in the Sydney Morning Herald via the Internet.

On June 29, I read that the survivors from New Zealand were being charged $125 dollars (I assume Australian or New Zealand dollars) by the New Zealand immigration authorities, because they had 'lost' their passports.

They have not 'lost' their passports, but are dealing with a situation that most of us thankfully will never have to deal with.

Having spent several months in the past in hostels in Australia, I am aware of the bonds that residents make. These people become like your family.

Backpackers tend to be young, therefore they are people who can, in no way, prepare for this kind of disaster. To then be told by their government that they have to pay for a new passport at a time when they are grieving, is appalling.

This case is not isolated, it has happened before and will happen again. It is time to stand up to these government departments and ask them to see the bigger picture. These backpackers have suffered enough, why intensify their agony? Although many readers probably have no direct link with this story and see it as another piece of breaking news, I feel it is time we stood up and questioned the decision of the New Zealand Government to ensure that this will never happen again - in New Zealand or any other country.

The official who made that decision should be ashamed, and apologise to the victims, because they are victims. The government should be offering support to its citizens, not asking for money. People are suffering the loss of 15 friends whom they lived and worked with. The last thing they need is this type of bureaucratic insult.

The slightest thought and appreciation for these types of situations can save so much pain and heartache.

I appeal to the nearest New Zealand consulate to reverse this appalling decision and not ask for money, but to offer support at this traumatic time.

It is dealing with people, not statistics, and it is time that governments around the world realised this. My thoughts go out to the victims of this tragedy - the survivors and those who perished.