Home safe on Queensland soil after a week caught up in island riots

More than 80 Australians have touched down at home and been reunited with their families after being evacuated from New Caledonia following more than a week of deadly rioting.

May 22, 2024, updated May 22, 2024
Repatriated Australian travellers arrive from New Caledonia to Brisbane International Airport, in Brisbane, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. . (AAP Image/Pool, David Clark)

Repatriated Australian travellers arrive from New Caledonia to Brisbane International Airport, in Brisbane, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. . (AAP Image/Pool, David Clark)

Two Royal Australian Air Force planes repatriated 84 Australians and 24 other nationals to Brisbane on Tuesday.

“We’ve prioritised the elderly, the pregnant and the most vulnerable,” Pacific Minister Pat Conroy told Nine’s Today Show on Wednesday.

“We’ll continue to work with the French government to make sure we get every Australian out of New Caledonia who does want to leave.”

Other nationalities were included due to reciprocal agreements with countries like Canada and Japan that help evacuate Australian citizens during times of crisis, Mr Conroy said.

More than 200 Australians remain trapped in New Caledonia and want to leave.

The French government is planning flights from Noumea to Brisbane on Wednesday.

“We obviously have plans developed and planes available should that not eventuate,” Mr Conroy added.

Those on board the first two flights were filled with relief after days of failing to find a way off the island, Fadi Chemali, who was on the first plane to reach Australia, said.

“Everyone clapped once we landed, we were all just so happy,” he told AAP shortly after landing in Brisbane on Tuesday night.

Mr Chemali had been holidaying with his wife and young daughter for a week before the riots broke out and spent eight days scrambling to find a way home.

“I didn’t see any of the violence up close but we heard a lot, including gunshots from where we were, it has been fairly intense.”

At least six people have died in the territory and hundreds have been injured since violence broke out last Monday.

French troops are trying to stem further unrest, with buildings razed, shops looted and roads barricaded.

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The government will continue to work with other countries on securing more flights, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

Australia’s Consul-General in New Caledonia, Annelise Young, posted on X her team had been working round the clock with teams in Canberra and Paris and closely with the French authorities to ensure safe passage for Australian tourists.

Senator Wong spoke with her New Zealand and French counterparts on Monday to request access to the territory.

New rules changing who is allowed to participate in the nation’s elections have been slammed by the Indigenous Kanak people, who fear their vote will be diluted by thousands of French nationals who have moved to the island.

About 270 rioters have been arrested and a 12-hour curfew imposed from 6pm to 6am.

France has sent more than 1000 security personnel, with hundreds more to join, in a bid to quell the unrest.

The reopening of the international airport for commercial flights will be reassessed on Thursday.

Australia has urged people to reconsider travel to New Caledonia.

Those in the territory have been advised to limit their movement.

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