The New Zealand High Commissioner has recapitulated on the successful repatriation of more than 1000 Ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers from New Zealand who were repatriated in just 5-days on 19th-23rd of June.
The Royal NZ Air Force Boeing 757 passenger aircraft has made eight flights over that time and was regarded as one of the biggest movements of people in the history of the NZ Defence Force.
NZ High Commissioner Jonathan Schwass said there were about 3,700 RSE workers in New Zealand picking fruits and carrying out other horticultural work but as the picking season ended and because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the workers couldn’t get home.
A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Bob Loughman and the NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked on the phone and agreed that NZ would repatriate as many high-priority RSE workers as they possibly could.
“We explored commercial options to bring them back but there were no suitable preferences, so the NZ Government agreed to provide flights for these 1000 people through its Royal NZ Air Force Boeing 757 passenger aircraft,” he said
“The repatriated RSE workers returned to Vanuatu from Christchurch and Auckland.
“These flights were funded a total of over a million NZ$ by the NZ taxpayer as a “thank you” by NZ for all the hard work that the Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers have done in NZ over more than a decade.
“Our wine and fruit growing industries would not be where they are today without Vanuatu’s contribution, we value that very much.”
Mr Schwass said the NZ Defence Force ran an amazing transport operation, which was supported very well at the NZ end by the Vanuatu High Commission, industry and NZ Government officials.
“Getting more than 1000 workers from their places of employment all over the NZ countryside in time to catch their flights was a major exercise, as was carrying out all the documentation checks and the pre-flight health screening.
“On arrival in Vila, the airport and border agencies and the health authorities provided a really impressive arrival service which in most cases processed all the passengers in only about an hour. Then they were whisked off to their hotels for 14-days quarantine.
“I was out at the airport for several of the flights and I was very impressed by the way each flight was handled.”
He further added “these repatriations were a great example of our two countries working together very closely under a tight timeframe in a whole range of interrelated areas, from transport logistics to health.
“I think it is testament to the quality of the relationship between NZ and Vanuatu that it went as well as it did.
“There was great goodwill between all involved and real determination to deliver the best possible result for both countries.
“I take my hat off to all those involved on both the NZ and Vanuatu sides.
“Of course, this was just the beginning. We know that in August, after the 40th anniversary of independence, the Government of Vanuatu will want to bring back home another large group of RSE workers.
“We are expecting that this will be a charter based operation rather than one involving our Defence Force, but I am confident that as a result of the experience we gained from this initial phase we will be able to deliver this next phase equally successfully.”