22 May 2024

'I've run out of medicines': Kiwis anxious to get out of New Caledonia

11:43 am on 22 May 2024

A four-day holiday turned into a 14-day anxious wait to get back home for one Kiwi who has been stuck in New Caledonia.

The Defence Force evacuated 48 people to Auckland on Tuesday night, after violence and unrest caused Nouméa's international airport to close. But there are still another 274 people yet to be brought back.

The number of New Zealanders who had registered on SafeTravel had increased as the situation in New Caledonia continued, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

New Zealander Mike Lightfoot, in Nouméa, is still waiting on word on his flight back.

But seeing other Kiwis make it back home felt "surreal, it feels so close, but yet so far away."

He wasn't informed about the first flight, but believed people with medical issues and young families were prioritised.

"I definitely saw a pregnant lady on the bus. We're just hoping that it's the right type of people that got out of here first - that's the most important thing. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be on that first plane if there was somebody ahead of us that needed to get home," Lightfoot told Morning Report.

Lightfoot said there was chat of a potential flight out of Nouméa to Brisbane.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand was working with France and Australia on another flight today.

A French aircraft will take about 50 New Zealanders, along with Australians and other nationals, from Nouméa to Brisbane.

A New Zealand aircraft will then transport the evacuees back to Auckland.

Some Kiwis had received a call about it, Lightfoot said he found out through a WhatsApp chat group, but not him.

"It's just a waiting game for us.

"Unfortunately, I've run out of one of my medicines I take daily and they don't have that medicine here, so we're sort of hoping in the near future that we will get a call to get home.

"We're ecstatic that [work is] under way to get us out of here, but looking forward to getting home as soon as possible."

He went to Nouméa with his wife for a four-day break, and has been there almost 14 days now.

"It's been difficult, people are anxious.

"We just want to get home, and I understand where that anxiousness is coming from."

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules arrives in Port Moresby, 30 November 2021.

The NZDF Hercules landed at Nouméa Magenta Airport for the first round of evacuations on 21 May 2024. File photo. Photo: NZDF

Natalie Jones was among the 50 evacuees.

She said she could see tanks and other military vehicles near her holiday accommodation.

"We were on the 11th floor so we saw the tanks ... seeing the tanks fuelling up - that was a bit daunting. But we felt safe, we could see frigates and Coastguard out on the water as well ... strong presence."

The evacuees were told they would have a police escort to the domestic airport they left from, but it did not show up, she said.

However, she said protesters could be seen waving white flags, and she did not feel scared.

She said her abiding memory would be the care and generosity shown by others at the apartments where she and her party were staying.

"Just how generous the people were that looked after us in the apartment ... all the residents there as well. [They would ask] 'Have you got food, do you need anything, come to my room', everybody was really caring," Jones said.

Retired Northland couple Mike and Chris Riley were also evacuated. They said it was a frightening experience and they felt helpless not being able to leave.

"It was a bit unsettling. I think other people got it worse than us. The closest that fighting got to us was about 5km away, we weren't that close."

There will be more flights over the next few days to bring 274 other Kiwis out of the French territory which has been riven by riots and political unrest.

The NZ Government said it would also be helping other countries evacuate their citizens.

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