Terror in Chch
Attack donation tensions boil to the surface
Abdul Aziz is known around the world for his 'eftpos machine' heroism on March 15. Now he’s taking on the Muslim establishment over donations for the terror attack victims.
Simmering frustrations within Christchurch’s Muslim community, about how public donations to mosque attack victims are being distributed, are set to boil into public view today.
At 2.30pm, a group of people led by Linwood Islamic Centre hero Abdul Aziz have scheduled a protest outside Christchurch MP Megan Woods’ electorate office in Hoon Hay. They’re asking the Government to step in, claiming donations have been distributed “unjustly”.
The protest comes the day after Victim Support announced its final payments to victims from a $13.2 million fund.
Aziz is world-famous for confronting the gunman at the Linwood mosque on March 15. He threw an eftpos machine, and, later, shattered the shooter’s car window with one of his empty rifles. The act of heroism is credited with saving lives. (Seven died at Linwood and about half a dozen were injured, compared to 44 who died at Masjid al Noor, next to Hagley Park, in the central city.)
The protest group feels it’s unfair that some victims of the attack are being paid more than others, and those mentally affected but with no physical injuries are getting the least amount. A petition signed by about 70 people says Muslim organisations are making decisions without consulting all victims. (Linwood’s mosque is separate from the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ.)
Aziz says dividing the money into categories is dividing the community.
“When they collected money in the name of the victims, all people in the mosque on that day were victims – there shouldn’t be any differentiation,” he says. “They were lucky on that day they didn’t die, or didn’t get injured, they’re lucky. But mentally all of them were thinking, ‘I will be dead next’.”
Aziz also has questions for Muslim groups – such as the Muslim Association of Canterbury, based at Al Noor, Auckland groups Al Manar Islamic Trust and Masjid At-Taqwa and umbrella group The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, or FIANZ. He wants to know how much donated money has been collected, to whom it has been distributed, and who decided the recipients of cash grants. He wants an independent audit.
Disquiet seems to have turned to distrust and disharmony.
The pony-tailed furniture shop owner, who drives a BMW, says he’s not fighting for himself. “If they think I’m going for the money, please don’t pay me. But make sure all my community, as a member of the community, they’re being looked after.”
(There have been tensions in recent weeks. Linwood chose to celebrate Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, earlier than FIANZ. That drew accusations on its Facebook page that it was trying to “divide the ummah in New Zealand”.)
“Some women they don’t even have wallets. They don’t even have eftpos cards.” – Shagaf Khan
Shagaf Khan, the president of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, says it received $54,000 from FIANZ in the first week after the attacks, to make emergency payments to those who lost loved ones, before the first tranche of Victim Support money was distributed.
“Some women they don’t even have wallets. They don’t even have eftpos cards.”
He says those grants were properly documented. But, initially, they didn’t reach everyone and several people, including some in hospital, complained. “I’m pretty sure we have distributed even to Linwood people.”
When MAC put its bank account number on Facebook the day after the attack, Khan says the post clearly stated the money was being collected for the injured and the deceased families. “We are not such a big organisation that we can collect money for the witnesses.” (Newsroom checked the post, which reads: “MAC has dedicated the following two accounts for the support of the victims of Christchurch.”)
Khan says the association collected donations totalling between $300,000 and $350,000. For transparency, exact figures were quoted to mosque attendees after Friday prayers. He also sent a screenshot of the account balances sent to the chairman of Linwood Islamic Centre.
Several groups, including MAC, At-Taqwa and Al Manar, signed agreements to put their money together and send it to Victim Support for distribution. One of the main reasons was that Victim Support had the police list of victims, including bank account numbers.
(He notes the Muslim organisations are charitable organisations, and that meetings about using donated money were held “under DIA”, the Department of Internal Affairs.)
Two payments were made to Victim Support, Khan says. The first had no conditions. The second amount was mandated – as requested by donors to At-Taqwa – to go to only the families of the dead, and the injured.
“We are totally satisfied with the way [it has been done]. We’re happy that money has been reaching the right people.”
Meanwhile, FIANZ says it received about $305,000 after the March 15 attacks, including the initial money sent to Christchurch. President Mustafa Farouk, who lives in Hamilton, says the early Christchurch payment was administered through the Al Noor executive. The balance was given to Victim Support.
“What we have decided is we have no expertise in this area so we don’t want to be involved with distributing the money,” Farouk says, noting it was criticised internally for handing over the money to an outside organisation. It’s still awaiting instructions from the offshore donor of a further $US1.3 million (almost $NZ2 million). “If the donor says the money should be given to the victims then we’ll give the money to Victim Support.”
Farouk says everyone, including those at Linwood’s mosque on March 15, have been treated fairly and it is important that donations have been collected and distributed transparently.
Before yesterday, Victim Support had distributed $7 million to victims. Those affected by the attack gathered in Hagley Park yesterday to hear how it intended to divvy up the rest of the $13.2 million – including $10.9 million raised from 100,000 people on a Givealittle fundraising page.
Over the past month, Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso met more than half the 291 victims to ask how they thought the money was best disbursed. He told the assembled people at Hagley Park yesterday there was no existing financial framework for distributing funds to victims. But, as a group, most agreed some people should be paid more, that the bereaved and severely injured must be looked after, and those with mental trauma “must be recognised”.
Final payout confirmed
In this last round of payments, $50,000 will go to the families of deceased, $26,000 for survivors injured by bullets, $9000 for people injured in other ways, and $5000 for others present at either Linwood or Al Noor mosques. (Two individuals donated $421,000 to the severely injured, which will be paid to the Christchurch Foundation, an organisation focused on medium-to-long-term needs. There’s also a contingency of $860,000.)
Tso said: “I know our decision cannot satisfy everyone, but I hope in explaining our approach you can understand it.”
Aziz, who attended the meeting, said today’s protest will still go ahead.
Muslim Association of Canterbury’s Khan says the uninjured eyewitnesses at Al Noor mosque aren’t making much noise because they understand the donation distribution system. “It works. I think it’s a lack of understanding. They just don’t understand.”
Farouk, the president of FIANZ, tells Newsroom: “We acknowledge that nobody has to give us anything at all. The fact that people have given us donations, we appreciate it. We appreciate all organisations, including Victim Support, that are trying to do their best.”
Mohammad Shamim Siddiqui, who was shot in the arm at Al Noor, told Stuff yesterday: “I have no words to say how thankful I am.”
Another shooting victim, Ahmed Jahangir, who took a bullet to the shoulder, told RNZ: “This money, I don't know how long it will sustain [me] ... definitely not throughout my life – but it will help.”
“$10-11 million sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not. When you divide it between 300 people, it’s not a lot of money.” – Andrew Oh
Christchurch lawyer Andrew Oh initially worked pro bono for some victims’ families in a failed discussion about establishing a trust. He says it would have helped if Victim Support had consulted victims from the start, and set out its intentions for distributing the money earlier.
Those suffering mental trauma are being acknowledged by Victim Support payments, he says. But given the relatively small pot of money to be stretched across almost 300 people, a fair system has to prioritise those with the greatest needs. And there are some people who are struggling to support their families.
Oh says the view that victims of all stripes should get equal payments is out of sync with Victim Support, the majority of the victims, and what has happened after tragedies overseas. It would be a rare donor, he says, who wouldn’t want more of their money to go to the most affected – those whose family members died, and the most seriously injured.
Where do you draw the line, he asks. At the mosque boundary? Witnesses to the tragedy who were outside the mosque aren’t eligible for Victim Support payments because they’re not in a “victim class”, Oh says.
“$10-11 million sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not. When you divide it between 300 people, it’s not a lot of money. When you talk about people who have lost their loved ones it’s not a lot of money.”
(A list of people traumatised by the attacks who are not eligible for donated money must include Hina Amir. She was trapped with her husband in a car being sprayed with bullets. While the car provided cover for those fleeing Al Noor mosque, she witnessed 17-year-old Muhammad Haziq Mohd-Tarmizi being shot dead, just a few feet away.)
ACC payments revealed
In an Official Information Act response, the Accident Compensation Corporation confirms it has paid $1.35 million for at least 327 claims related to the shootings. (Medical treatment in public hospital emergency departments is bulk-funded.)
The largest payment categories were death benefits – for grants and weekly compensation, totalling $778,000 – and weekly compensation for the injured, at $338,000.
ACC pays 80 percent of pre-injury income. However, if a person dies as a result of an accident, ACC pays the compensation to their partner for five years, or until their youngest child turns 18 – or 21 if the child is in fulltime study. That’s on top of one-off grants for funerals and a “survivor’s grant” for a partner and dependents.
Given the final Victim Support payouts have now been decided, Khan, of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, says worries about the “money thing” are probably over. His attention has turned to the immigration status of those who have come from overseas to support their family members.
“That’s the major issue we are facing.”
Farouk, of FIANZ, knows the job of supporting bereaved families and the victims will be continuous. He worries about those people who have been so seriously injured that they will need financial support for decades. “Where are those funds going to come from?”