Australia, NZ Evacuates Citizens From New Caledonia Amid Protests

Plans to evacuate citizens of New Caledonia, a country ravaged by conflict, have been revealed by the governments of Australia and New Zealand. French officials have given the go-ahead for two planes to whisk away visitors and residents from the French Pacific island, whose native populations have long fought for autonomy from France.

After the two governments began facilitating the evacuation of their citizens, the first aircraft arrived on Tuesday. Protests and political turmoil in the French territory have resulted in the evacuations after at least four fatalities, approximately 200 arrests, and many injuries.

In a press release, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters confirmed the first evacuation flight to New Zealand is about to take off. The consulate personnel in both Australia and New Zealand have compiled passenger lists and prioritized flying out those with the most essential needs.

It is estimated that there are around 290 New Zealanders in New Caledonia. After being locked up at a resort in Nouméa for more than a week, Australian tourists Maxwell Winchester and Tiffany were “ecstatic” about the idea of returning home. According to the French High Commission in New Caledonia, French gendarmes are now cleaning debris, including broken automobiles, off the 60km (37 miles) road between Nouméa and La Tontouta airport after having “neutralized” 76 barricades.

The Australian government has issued travel advice advising citizens from attempting to reach the airport independently, stating that the route “is not yet considered safe.” The airport will be reevaluated on Thursday in order to determine when it will be possible to open it to commercial flights again. A rough estimate puts the number of individuals waiting to depart or enter New Caledonia at 3,200. A further 600 reinforcements will be arriving “in the coming hours” to bolster security in the region, which has already seen 1,050 more police transported in by French plane.

French President Emmanuel Macron issued a warning that the French military would have to stay in New Caledonia “for some time.” Viro Xulue, a member of a social aid organization for the Kanak population, told Reuters that it was like being back in the 1980s again. He said the French government is ill-equipped to manage the local populace. More than 2,000 soldiers are sent to control, but it doesn’t work.

Since the middle of the 1800s, France has had control over New Caledonia.