Defence Force called in to repatriate stranded Vanuatuan seasonal workers

Vanuatu workers stuck in New Zealand.
Vanuatu workers stuck in New Zealand. Photo credit: Facebook

The Government says there is a "massive" joint effort between New Zealand and the Vanuatu Government to repatriate a number of seasonal workers stranded here.

Around 1000 workers became stuck in New Zealand as borders closed and flights were grounded amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters on Thursday said the governments of both countries have been working together to get the Vanuatuans home.

"With no commercial flight options available, the Vanuatu nationals, who are largely made up of Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers, will return to Vanuatu on New Zealand Defence Force flights over the coming week," said Peters.

He said it was a "huge undertaking" by both countries, but that New Zealand was committed to helping get Pacific nationals home.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared more than 3700 workers from Vanuatu were in New Zealand. Many of them are now without work and are ready to return home," Peters said.

Many of the workers were stuck in Central Otago, though a number were able to be relocated to Marlborough to continue working while they waited to be repatriated.

"RSE workers from Vanuatu play an important role in the New Zealand horticulture and viticulture industry. Similarly, working here provides an opportunity to earn an income while gaining skills and experience to help their communities back home in Vanuatu," Peters said.

Defence Minister Ron Mark said a Boeing 757 aircraft would make eight flights to Vanuatu over a number of days, with each trip taking around 130 people. 

All those returning to Vanuatu would need to go into quarantine for 14 days, he said.

He said the use of military assets to get the workers home was an "exceptional circumstance".