Kanaky New Caledonia unrest: NZ student in Nouméa taught to use fire extinguishers

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The burnt out remains of a car seen near the University of Caledonia
The burnt out remains of a car seen near the University of New Caledonia. Image: Emma Royland/RNZ

A New Zealander studying at the University of New Caledonia says students have been taught to use fire extinguishers as firefighters are unlikely to come help if there is an emergency.

It comes as days of unrest followed a controversial proposed constitutional amendment which would allow more French residents of New Caledonia to vote — a move that pro-independence protesters say would weaken the indigenous Kanak vote.

Six people have been confirmed dead so far in the state of emergency and there are reports of hundreds of people injured, numerous fires and looting in New Caledonia’s capital Nouméa.

Emma Royland is one of several international students at the university in Nouméa and said everyone was getting a bit “high-strung”.

“There’s this high-strung suspicion from every noise, every bang that ‘is that somebody coming to the university?'”

Royland said a roster had been set up so that someone was constantly up overnight, looking over the university campus.

Nights had become more quiet, but there was still unrest, she said.

Concern over technology
The vice-president of the university had visited yesterday to bring students some cooking oil and expressed the concern the university had for its expensive technology, Royland said.

“They are very worried that people come and they burn things just as a middle finger to the state.

A New Zealand student studying at the University of New Caledonia says the unrest in Noumea is leaving her and other students high-strung and suspicious of every little bump or noise. They have been taught to use fire extinguishers in case rioters sets anything at the university of fire as firefighters are unlikely to come help.
Smoke wafts over the harbour near Nouméa. Image: Emma Royland/RNZ

“We’ve been told that ‘if you see a fire, it’s unlikely that the firefighters will come so we will try and manage it ourselves’.”

Royland said water to the part of Nouméa she was in had not been affected but food was becoming an issue.

The university was providing food when it could but even it was struggling to get access to it — snacks such as oreos had been provided.

But the closest supermarket that was open had “queues down the block” that could last three or four hours, Royland said.

Seeing ‘absolutely crazy things’
She was seeing “absolutely crazy things that I’ve never seen in my life”.

A New Zealand student studying at the University of New Caledonia says the unrest in Noumea is leaving her and other students high-strung and suspicious of every little bump or noise. They have been taught to use fire extinguishers in case rioters sets anything at the university of fire as firefighters are unlikely to come help.
Food supplies are delivered to the University of Caledonia campus. Image: Emma Royland/RNZ

That included people holding guns.

“It is quite scary to know just 20 seconds down from the university there are guys with guns blocking the road.”

Yesterday, the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) said it would fly into New Caledonia to bring home New Zealanders while commercial services were not operating.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand was waiting for the go-ahead from French authorities, based on safety.

“Ever since the security situation in New Caledonia deteriorated earlier this week, the safety of New Zealanders there has been an urgent priority for us,” Peters wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

“NZ authorities have now completed preparations for flights using NZDF aircraft to bring home New Zealanders in New Caledonia while commercial services are not operating.

‘Ready to fly’
“We are ready to fly, and await approval from French authorities as to when our flights are safe to proceed.”

A New Zealand student studying at the University of New Caledonia says the unrest in Noumea is leaving her and other students high-strung and suspicious of every little bump or noise. They have been taught to use fire extinguishers in case rioters sets anything at the university of fire as firefighters are unlikely to come help.
Businesses and facilities have been torched by rioters. Image: Emma Royland/RNZ

Royland praised the response from New Zealand, saying other countries had not been so quick to help its citizens.

She said she had received both a call and email from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade asking her if she was in immediate danger and if she needed assistance straight away.

Everyone she had spoken to at the university seemed impressed with how New Zealand was responding, she said.

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

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