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Stranded Kiwis in New Caledonia feel abandoned amid violent riots

New Zealanders trapped in New Caledonia’s capital, Nouméa, amidst major riots and civil unrest, express a sense of abandonment by the government, citing a lack of substantial support.

The chaos erupted on Monday with violent clashes between indigenous Kanak pro-independence demonstrators and security forces, triggered by a proposed law permitting long-term French residents to vote, a move seen as potentially diminishing the Kanak influence.

Since the violence began, five fatalities, including two police officers, and hundreds of injuries have been reported. The unrest escalated on Friday night, with confrontations around Magenta airport. Rioters hurled hammers and stones at the police, who retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades. Authorities warned the military could use lethal force if necessary. A local resident indicated that the Kanaks were resolute and predicted worsening violence if the army couldn’t control the situation.

Amid the turmoil, four friends from North Canterbury, Shula and Wolf Guse, and Sarah and William Hughes-Games, found their dream trip turned nightmare. Speaking to state media they described how they arrived in Nouméa on Monday to celebrate Shula’s birthday and Sarah and William’s 40th anniversary, only to encounter burning tyres, roadblocks, and protesters as they left the airport.

Shula Guse described the scene, “As we left the airport, there were blocks just everywhere … burning tyres, and people stopping us, and lots of big rocks on the road, and branches, and people shouting, waving flags.”

Despite their attempts to seek assistance, they received minimal help from SafeTravel, a New Zealand government organisation. Sarah Hughes-Games noted, “All they’ve done is sent us a … general letter, nothing specific.” She also mentioned that attempts to contact the New Zealand Consulate in Nouméa were futile as it was closed. “This is the one time they should be open and helping people,” she said.

Another New Zealander reported that their family, registered with SafeTravel, received no additional guidance from the government and struggled to find food. “They don’t know where to go now and there seems to be no help from anywhere,” they said.

With the Nouméa airport closed until at least Tuesday, Air New Zealand cancelled flights to and from Auckland. The airline assured it would only resume flights once the airport and routes to it were deemed safe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade activated its emergency crisis system and maintained contact with affected New Zealanders, local authorities, and international partners. Although the Consulate-General staff were working remotely due to travel difficulties, in-person meetings were held for New Zealanders, and consular officials were proactively reaching out to registered citizens.

Despite these efforts, stranded New Zealanders expressed dissatisfaction with the level of support received. The ministry urged New Zealanders to register on SafeTravel for updates and to avoid protests while monitoring local media.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters reassured that the government was doing everything possible to repatriate New Zealanders, including potential Air Force involvement. The Defence Force confirmed discussions with officials regarding the situation.

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