23 Jun 2020

NZ and Australian flights repatriate ni-Vanuatu

9:23 pm on 23 June 2020

Two flights from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Vanuatu today, carrying over 180 ni-Vanuatu.

A baggage handler at Bauerfield Airport, Port Vila, Vanuatu, pulls a trolley containing water containers from a Boeing 757 to a waiting RNZAF C130 Hercules. The Boeing arrived at Port Vila with 11 tonnes of relief supplies for Ambae Island.

RNZAF C130 Hercules at Bauerfield Airport, Port Vila, Vanuatu. File Photo Photo: NZDF

Of the passengers, 50 were from Australia and 132 from New Zealand, mostly seasonal workers who had been stranded in these countries since the covid-19 pandemic was declared in March.

Today saw the last two flights from the first phase of a process to repatriate Vanuatu nationals amid international travel restrictions due to the pandemic. The second phase will begin in August.

Since the repatriation started last month over one thousand five hundred nationals have been rapatriated.

This has already cost the Vanuatu government already over 13 million US dollars (or 1.5 billion vatu).

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the government had been working closely with Vanuatu's government to conduct the repatriation.

With no commercial flight options available, New Zealand Defence Force flights were arranged to help repatriate the ni-Vanuatu coming from New Zealand who were largely Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared more than 3,700 workers from Vanuatu were in New Zealand. Many of them are now without work and are ready to return home," Mr Peters said last week.

"RSE workers from Vanuatu play an important role in the New Zealand horticulture and viticulture industry.

"Similarly, working here provides an opportunity to earn an income while gaining skills and experience to help their communities back home in Vanuatu."

Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers working for contractor Hortus in the vineyard.

Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers working for contractor Hortus in the vineyard. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

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