Fresh fears Aussies stranded on remote New Caledonia island will ‘be forgotten’

More than 200 Aussies remain stranded in New Caledonia, desperate to come home, as deadly riots and unrest continue to grip the French nation, grounding flights out of the country. Among them is Sydney woman Sarah Melrose who says she feels “unsafe” holed up in her remote island accommodation with “limited food” and little communication from authorities.

The 35-year-old traveled to Noumea, the nation’s capital, on May 8, before making her way to a smaller island, Isle de Pins, or Isle of Pines, with two friends where they remain.

“It’s now been 13 days here and all domestic travel is cancelled, so we can’t get a boat or plane back to Noumea,” she told Yahoo News Australia from her accommodation.

While two repatriation flights were arranged by the Australian government to help get over 100 Aussies back home, touching down in Brisbane on Tuesday night, Melrose fears those stuck on smaller islands will “be forgotten,” declaring she and many others have “no way back “to the mainland.

“I have asked DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) what the plan is to get us off (this island) as we have no way of getting to Noumea, but so far they have no update or plans to help us it seems, “she said. “We’re waiting to be called but they’ve told us the flights are only for people who are already in Noumea.”

“We keep trying them every day but I’m not confident they understand we can’t get to Noumea — and I’m scared they’ll forget about those left on the islands,” she continued. “I think there are 10 Australians on this island, but there are many more islands too.”

Melrose and her friends are stuck on a smaller island, Isle of Pines, unable to travel back to Noumea and onward to Australia with all flights, including those from Qantas, cancelled. (Pictured, left: Island of Pines village, Vao) Source: Supplied

While the smaller island “doesn’t have as much rioting as Noumea” she said they still “feel unsafe.” Plus, not knowing when, or how, they’ll make it home is “very concerning.” Her friend had her phone and bag stolen, and because English is limited in the French-speaking nation, “it’s hard to get a lot of information,” she added.

Violence across the island nation erupted last week after a bill was passed allowing more French residents to cast ballots in provincial elections. Indigenous people have long sought independence from France. At least six people have died and hundreds more have been injured.

Some 270 rioters have been arrested, and a 6pm to 6am curfew is in force for the archipelago of about 270,000 people. The unrest has forced domestic and international airports to shut and cruise ships including P&O wiping Noumea and Lifou from their itinerary.

At first, Melrose said they weren’t aware of what was happening on the mainland but later saw it on the news. “We also have a friend in Noumea who told us,” she said.

Nine days after their planned departure date, the trio remain at the Relais le Kuberka — one of just a few hotels on the island — with “limited food” available.

“The food is limited as boats transporting food have stopped,” she explained. “There are no cooking facilities at our hotel so we’ve been having instant noodles every night.

“There is no more fresh food or milk and bread. Only tins of food and dried food, like instant noodles. There is only one shop on the island and about five or so hotels.”

Australia has urged people to reconsider their need to travel to the South Pacific Territory. Photo by Delphine Mayeur/AFP.

The government will continue to work with other countries on securing more flights out of Noumea, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said, with all commercial airlines, including Qantas, canceling flights. New Zealand also announced it was sending a plane to evacuate 50 of its nationals from Noumea, the Pacific island’s capital.

It’s not known when more flights might become available, however, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told remaining Australians they could come at short notice, and they should be ready to leave. “The Australian Government also stands ready to assist with further flights should French authorities grant approval,” the department told the travelers.

It’s understood Qantas has been attempting to reschedule flights but is limited due to airport closures. The national airline has also offered domestic flights to returning passengers arriving in Brisbane on DFAT flights, to get them to their home cities.

“While the airport in Noumea remains closed due to continuing civil unrest in New Caledonia, Qantas is unable to operate scheduled services,” a spokesperson told Yahoo on Wednesday.

“We’re in close contact with DFAT and Noumea Airport authorities and preparing to respond quickly to help get people to their destinations when it reopens,” they added. “We will continue to contact impacted customers directly with a range of options, including refunds.”

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