Triplets' parents on quest for truth
Some New Zealand expatriates living in Qatar refuse to visit the mall where 19 people, including Kiwi triplets, were killed, amid concerns for their own safety as they continue to search for answers.
But the people seeking answers the most are the families of 13 children and four teachers who were all killed when the Gympanzee child care centre in Doha’s Villagio mall went up in flames in May.
Martin Weekes, the father of two-year old triplets, Lillie, Jackson and Willsher, has renewed his call for Prime Minister John Key to contact the country’s head of state, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“New Zealand has shown itself to have real integrity on the global stage. It’s a small country that does the right thing,” Mr Weekes says.
“This is about doing the right thing for its people, not just for the people who died but the people who are still there.”
While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) say there are close to 400 New Zealanders registered as being in the country, Mr Weekes estimates it is closer to 10,000.
He knows of people who won’t visit the mall. Some don’t even like driving past it.
“It has changed people. Because I guess everyone likes to believe that you’re in these environments that look like anywhere else in the world and you expect the safety standards to be exactly as they are when you’re back home. People now are very uncertain,” he says.
“We have a lot of friends who are looking to relocate and leave. It’s sad because they feel disappointed, not just by what happened to the children, but the response we’ve had since.”
Mr Weekes first called on Mr Key to become personally involved earlier this month. His calls for answers on how the mall fire happened have been ignored, but he says the Prime Minister's won't.
When asked this weekend whether Mr Key would contact the Emir, Mr Key repeated a phrase he said earlier this month, which was that he would be happy to intervene "directly in the process if required".
He did not say who or what would require him to do so. "I think it’s still best handled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry.”
Mr Weekes and his wife Jane are haunted by the “horrific” stories they’ve heard, including the day care centre staff who called their families when they were dying, while the sound of children screaming could be heard in the background.
“It wasn’t just because of the fire, it’s why weren’t they evacuated? We’ve been told security told the teachers the fire was out. How can this happen at 11am on a weekday in the most populous mall in the country?
“We’re never going to get our children back, sadly, they’ve passed. But let’s learn as to why they died so no other family has to go through this.”
Mr Weekes has sought and failed to obtain the government’s investigation report into the fire, while court hearings have stalled because the child care centre owner, one of several accused in relation to the fire, has failed to show up.
While the government released the report’s findings, which attributed the fire to a faulty light fixture in the store next to the child care centre, nor Mr Weekes or the New Zealand government have been able to obtain the report.
“We’re deafened by silence. We don’t hear the children laughing, we don’t hear the children playing and I’m certainly not hearing any answers to my questions,” he says.
Mr Weekes was told just last week that he would have to get a court order to obtain the report, from a legal system which he is already frustrated with. The child care centre’s owner, Iman Al Kuwari, the daughter of Qatar’s Minister of Culture and wife to the ambassador to Belgium, is the only charged person who has not appeared in court.
She has reportedly said that she did not receive her summons so was not obliged to attend. Her maid had signed for it instead.
Martin and Jane are in the United States trying to conceive through IVF, while Martin is also being treated for post traumatic stress syndrome.
Thankful for the support they have received from New Zealanders and Mfat, what the couple really want is for the Prime Minister to become personally involved, a request they first asked of him earlier this month.
“The only way around this is for the head of our country to pick up the phone, because it’s a relationship-based society,” Mr Weekes, who is still employed as an advisor to the Qatar Government, says.
“If we think we’re playing cricket, they’re not. They play to a different set of rules of engagement. We’re going about it the wrong way. They won’t respond from the traditional bottom upwards bureaucratic requests,” he says.
“I’ll even pay for the phone call.”
You can keep track on the Weekes' case by following the Lillie, Jackson and Willsher memorial page on Facebook.