10 Oct 2017

NZ jobs vital for evacuated seasonal workers on Vanuatu's Ambae island

10:30 am on 10 October 2017

Dozens of ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers are among those forced to leave the volcanic island of Ambae and they're keen to get back to work on New Zealand orchards to relieve their plight.

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Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

They're among 11,000 people who were evacuated last week after the island's volcano started spewing ash and gas.

Robin Tuku represents about 50 seasonal workers from the western side of Ambae who've financed homes, small businesses and community projects with their New Zealand earnings.

He and his family are staying in the capital Port Vila as he waits for news of a departure date for the new season's work.

Most of the other seasonal workers were evacuated to the northern island of Santo.

He said their families could be away from Ambae for up to a year and the seasonal workers were keen to return to New Zealand to be able to defray the extra expenses involved with evacuation.

"Most of us, to be honest, ... are speechless. We just don't know. It's like starting a new page in life because everything we've invested in, like house, or whatever ... some of the workers they are depending on loans for houses, small businesses."

Mr Tuku said the workers normally returned to their jobs in Central Otago during the second week of October but the volcano's rumblings have interrupted things.

He said their home area on the western side of the island had been declared a "no-go" zone although he's not sure what damage, if any had been caused by the outpouring of sulphur and ash.

Mr Tuku was concerned about a water project that he and fellow seasonal workers had clubbed together to provide for their community with their New Zealand earnings.

Other investments made on Ambae are also at risk including a large copra storage shed.

Mr Tuku said his standard of living had improved since starting seasonal work six years ago.

He had invested in a small shop selling groceries but now he's worried about the future.

"I thought we were going back in a few week's time but from what we heard from the scientists, they say it's not safe to go home I think for maybe eight to 12 months.

"If we don't go back to Ambae I don't know where we stand."

Mr Tuku expected more costs resulting from his family having to live in the capital Port Vila.

He said the workers were relying on getting back to New Zealand to work as soon as possible in order to get back on their feet.

The volcanic eruption is continuing, though the alert level has been lowered, and it is not clear when the evacuees will be able to return.

The manager of the Geohazards Department, Esline Garaebiti, said last week ash from the volcano had killed crops and contaminated water supplies.

The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash.

The volcano on Ambae sending up a plume of smoke and ash. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

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