Aussies stranded in New Caledonia detail 'terrifying' ordeal amid mass riots

Six people have died as the streets of the formerly popular island hotspot are transformed into a 'war zone'.

Tonia Scholes inset over an image of New Caledonian streets.
Tonia Scholes described the neighbourhood in which her Airbnb is located as looking "like a war zone". Source: The Project/ Theo Rouby/AFP

An Australian woman stranded in New Caledonia amid growing unrest and riots has taken aim at the government over what she described as a "lack of communication", describing scenes on the ground as "absolutely terrifying".

Six people have died following the French government’s decision to allow people who have lived on the South Pacific island for at least 10 years to vote in provincial elections. The indigenous Kanak people, and pro-independence groups are protesting the electoral reform, with concerns it will dilute their vote.

Aussies stranded on the French-ruled territory say they are rationing food as they wait for a way out of the troubled island, with no flights currently being allowed in or out. They are among 3200 people who are stuck waiting to leave or enter.

Tonia Scholes described the neighbourhood in which her Airbnb is located, approximately 5 kilometres from the capital Noumea, as "like a war zone".

New Caledonia streets transformed into a 'war zone' amid mass rioting and unrest.
Australia’s Foreign Minister says the Australian Defence Force is “ready” to help Australians stranded in New Caledonia amid the exploding political unrest. Picture: Delphine Mayeur/ AFP

"There’s burnt cars, there’s barricades, there’s remnants of fires, there's people standing on street corners drinking hard liquor and having what almost seems like a party," she said on The Project on Sunday night.

"Buildings that we used as landmarks to find out Airbnb have been burnt to the ground," she added.

Scholes said she has no idea when she and her travel companions will be able to return back to Australia, with the group being told very little by the federal government.

"It's absolutely terrifying. You think that we're a little bit protected in Australia — that the government's got our backs," she said. "But there has been a lack of communication with information getting through to Australia as to how bad it is here.

"Friends of mine are just like 'Oh just get on to Smart Traveller' or 'just get onto the embassy'. The embassy's been closed here since we got here...We called the consulate, they sounded surprised that we were calling them. We don't call Canberra at three in the morning for fun.

Tonia Scholes is pictured.
Tonia is located approximately five kilometres from the capital Noumea. Source: The Project

"We found that they had our email address wrong. We found that there had been virtually no contact. We found that they had somebody else's surname wrong. This stuff matters, this is our lives and we want to come home. We don't know what's happening, we've got bags packed with our essentials. we're just hoping and waiting for a phone call."

While Scholes praised those around her for helping to keep her and her friends out of harm's way, she admitted that she feared for her safety. "So we are under curfew from 6pm to 6am every night and the night is peppered with gunshots and pops and bangs and helicopters and we’ve seen fighter jets and this is just surreal," she said.

"It’s definitely not what I thought I was coming for."

Another Aussie stranded, Joanne Elias, said she was told to fill up a bathtub with water in case it ran dry. "The kids are definitely hungry because we don't really have much option of what we can feed them," Joanne Elias said on Saturday from a resort in the capital Noumea, where her family has been holed up.

"You can tell they are running out of food," she told Reuters, referring to the resort where they are staying. Elias, who arrived in the country on May 10 with her husband and four children, said she had been told to fill a bathtub in case water ran out, as food stocks dwindled.

"We don't know how long we're going to be here for," she said.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the government was working with French authorities to give assistance to Australians stranded in the South Pacific islands. Commercial flights are currently not operating from Nouméa’s La Tontouta International Airport, and a state of emergency has been declared. A nationwide curfew between 6pm and 6am is also in place.

"We are working to support Australians in New Caledonia," Wong said on X.

New Caledonia streets transformed into a 'war zone' amid mass rioting and unrest.
Burnt cars of the Renault Dacia parking lot in Noumea, New Caledonia. Source: Delphine Mayeur/AFP

"The Australian Defence Force is ready to fly, pending commercial flights resuming. French authorities advise the situation on the ground is preventing flights. We continue to pursue approvals."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said about 300 Australians are currently registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and said the government was on hand to deliver assistance.

"The Australian government is closely monitoring events in New Caledonia, and there are reports they’re running out of food and commercial flights are stopped, commercial flights stopped a couple of days ago,” he told reporters on Sunday.

"We are looking into how we can provide assistance to Australians who are currently in New Caledonia."

Smart Traveller has warned Aussies to reconsider travel to New Caledonia over fears protests and political demonstrations “may turn more violent at short notice”.

Tourists have been urged to “exercise a high degree of caution,” and are urged to avoid the island’s capital of Nouméa due to political unrest, and the likelihood of travel disruptions and limited essential services.

With NCA Newswire and AAP

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