NZ families worried as loved ones shelter from violent unrest in New Caledonia

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French security forces in Nouméa engage with rioters
French security forces in Nouméa engage with rioters in the wake of three days of mayhem. Image: @GeoffroyAntoin2

By Adam Burns, RNZ News reporter

Worried New Caledonian expats in Aotearoa admit they are “terrified” for friends and family amid ongoing violence and civil unrest in the French Pacific territory.

The death toll remained at four tonight, and hundreds have been injured after electoral changes sparked widespread rioting by pro-independence supporters in the capital of Nouméa.

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared a 12-day state of emergency and about 1200 police enforcements are due to arrive from France.

Many worried locals have been confined to their homes.

New Zealand-based New Caledonians have explained how the situation in their homeland has left them on edge.

Pascale Desrumaux and her family have been in Auckland for two years.

With parts of the country in turmoil, she said she was scared for her family and friends back home in Nouméa.

“I’m terrified and I’m very stressed,” Desrumaux said.

“[My family] are afraid for their lives.”

‘Locked in’
The precarious situation is illustrated by the fact her family cannot leave their homes and neighbouring stores have been ransacked then torched by protesters.

“They are locked in at the moment, so they can’t move — so they feel anxiety of course,” Desrumaux said.

“On top of that, shortly they will run out of food.

“The situation is complex.”

Cars on fire in New Caledonia during unrest.
Cars on fire in Nouméa during the latest political unrest. Image: @ncla1ere

Desrumaux is checking in with family members every few hours for updates.

Amid the current climate, she said she had mixed emotions about being abroad.

“This shared feeling of being relieved to be here in New Zealand and grateful because my kids and husband are not in danger,” she said.

“At the same time I feel so bad for my friends and family over there.”

‘A beautiful place’
She stressed her home country remained “a beautiful place” and hoped the crisis could be resolved peacefully.

Fellow Auckland-based New Caledonian Anais Bride said she had been left distraught by what was unfolding.

In the past 48 hours, her parents have vacated their Nouméa home to stay with Bride’s sister as tensions escalated.

Based on her conversations with loved ones, she said that international news coverage had not fully conveyed the fluid crisis facing citizens on the ground.

“It took my mother a little while for her to accept the fact that it was time to leave, because she wanted to stay where she lives.

“My sisters’ just told her ‘at the end of the day, it’s just your house, it’s material’.

“It’s been hard for my parents.”

One supermarket standing
She said there was only one supermarket left standing in Nouméa, with many markets destroyed by fire.

Kevin, who did not want his surname to be published, is another New Caledonian living in New Zealand.

While his family has not seen much unrest first hand, explosions and smoke were constant where they were, he said.

He said it was hard to predict how the unrest could be straightened out.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said.

“The most tragic thing of course is the four deaths, and many businesses have been burned down so many people will lose their job.

“The main thing is how people rebuild connections, peace and of course the economy.”

‘Timely exit’ from Nouméa
Christchurch woman Viki Moore spent a week in New Caledonia before making a “timely exit” out of Nouméa on Monday as civil tension intensified.

Some of the heavy police presence at Nouméa airport on Monday, 13 May, 2024.
Some of the strong law enforcement presence at the airport in Nouméa on Monday. Image: Viki Moore/RNZ

“There was a heavy police presence out at the airport with two [armoured vehicles] at the entrance and heavily armed military police roaming around.

“Once we got into the airport we were relieved to be there in this sort of peaceful oasis.

“We didn’t really have a sense of what was still to come.”

She admitted that she did not fully comprehend the seriousness of it until she had left the territory.

An armoured vehicle on the road amid unrest in New Caledonia, on Monday, 13 May, 2024.
An armoured vehicle on the road amid unrest in New Caledonia, on Monday. Image: Viki Moore/RNZ

Warnings for travellers
Flights through Nouméa are currently grounded.

Air New Zealand said it was monitoring the situation in New Caledonia, with its next flight NZ932 from Auckland to Nouméa still scheduled for Saturday morning.

Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer Captain David Morgan said this “could be subject to change”.

“The safety of our passengers, crew, and airport staff is our top priority and we will not operate flights unless their safety can be guaranteed,” he said.

“We will keep passengers updated on our services and advise customers currently in Nouméa to follow the advice of local authorities and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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