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The federal government authorized two evacuation flights to remove Australians from New Caledonia; the first leaves Noumea

Six people died in the unrest that began last week, while the country’s international airport was also closed.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced yesterday that the government had received the go-ahead for two repatriation flights, which landed later in the day.

A French military plane arrives at Noumea-Magenta airport, New Caledonia
A French military plane arrives at Noumea-Magenta airport. Australia has just been authorized to send two government evacuation flights to New Caledonia. (AP Photo/Cedric Jacquot)

He said 108 Australians and other tourists were on the flights when they landed in Brisbane.

But it was not known when the approximately 200 Australians still on the ground who wish to leave would be able to return home.

Richard Fitzpatrick and his family, who have yet to fly north to Cairns, have cut their month-long trip short by a week.

“We were locked down for a couple of weeks, but yeah, we were lucky to be safe and sound,” he told 9News.

The New Caledonia repatriation flight lands in Brisbane on Tuesday 21 May 2024.
Richard Fitzpatrick and his family, who have yet to fly north to Cairns, have cut their month-long trip short by a week. (9News)

Tourist Brett Verwey said he and his family were relieved to be back in Australia before catching the flight back to Melbourne on Wednesday.

“We were going to go to Vanuatu, but that was canceled and we ended up choosing here, which was probably a bad decision,” he said.

Wong said the government would continue to work with partners on more flights, prioritizing passengers based on need.

He said French authorities said they would be carrying out flights starting tomorrow and the Department of Foreign Affairs was still in contact with Australians registered in New Caledonia.

More than 100 Australians and other tourists left New Caledonia on repatriation flights. (Penny Wong)

It wasn’t just Australians who were on the mercy flight. Canadian Oliver Lee is now on his first visit to Australia following talks with the Australian and Canadian consulates in Noumea.

He said it was crazy getting to the plane after getting a call just half an hour before takeoff.

Lee said he was traveling through Asia and decided to visit a friend in New Caledonia before heading to what would have been New Zealand and then Australia.

“The first few nights there were pretty hectic,” he said, explaining that he had been more secluded and safer in the tourist area.

The New Caledonia repatriation flight lands in Brisbane on Tuesday 21 May 2024.
It wasn’t just Australians who were on the mercy flight. Canadian Oliver Lee is now on his first visit to Australia following talks with the Australian and Canadian consulates in Noumea. (9News)

“You could see some of the smoke from the ongoing fires from the hotel.

“I was talking to my friend and I think I was a lot more worried about him and his safety, because I knew he was out patrolling every night, and I was like, ‘That’s crazy.'”

Wong urged Australians who still want to leave the Pacific territory to register online at DFAT Crisis Portal.

About 300 had registered as of Monday.

Wong said the government would continue to work with partners on more flights, prioritizing passengers based on need. (Penny Wong)
Wong urged Australians who still want to leave the Pacific territory to register online on the DFAT crisis portal. (Penny Wong)

“We have received clearance for two Australian Government-assisted departure flights today for Australian and other tourists to depart New Caledonia,” he said yesterday.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is contacting registered Australians. Passengers are being prioritized based on their needs.

“We continue to work on more flights.”

Riots broke out last week in response to reforms passed in Paris that allow newcomers to the French overseas territory to vote in local provincial elections, a move that some local leaders fear will weaken the voice of the indigenous Kanak people.

The indigenous population makes up about 40 percent of New Caledonia’s total population of 270,000, and many have called for independence from France.

Burned cars line up after riots broke out following protests over electoral reforms in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Riots broke out last week following protests over electoral reforms, killing six people. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)

Three referendums have been held on the issue since 2018, with the independence vote falling short on each occasion, although it boycotted the most recent vote in 2021.

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday in response to the unrest and France sent 1,000 additional security reinforcements to the territory to quell the violence.

While the worst of the unrest appears to be over, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said yesterday that “we are still a long way from returning to normal.”

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