Repatriation flights touch down from New Caledonia

Holly Hales |

Scores of relieved Australians have arrived home after escaping the anguish and turmoil of more than a week of deadly rioting in New Caledonia.

Royal Australian Air Force planes were sent to the French territory on Tuesday after the federal government was given clearance for two flights to bring back citizens. 

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

“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.” 

Traveller Fadi Chemali (left) arrives from New Caledonia
Fadi Chemali (left) and his family spent more than a week trying find a way off New Caledonia. (Russell Freeman/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Chemali said he first believed French authorities would help tourists off the island before it became clear Australia needed to step in.

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. 

About 300 Australians in New Caledonia are registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

A Hercules military plane reached Noumea earlier on Tuesday after leaving RAAF Base Amberley near Ipswich, according to public flight data.

It can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defence Department.

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

“French authorities have advised they will conduct flights to enable the safe departure of foreign tourists from New Caledonia, commencing tomorrow,” she wrote on social media platform X, adding Australia was ready to help. 

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.

Australian and other tourists board an Australian Airforce Hercules
RAAF planes were sent to New Caledonia after clearance for two flights to bring back citizens. (AP PHOTO)

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.