Vanautu RSE workers return home

Repatriated RSE workers arriving safely in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photos: NZHC - Vanuatu.

More than 1000 Vanuatu nationals working as RSE workers in New Zealand’s horticulture industries who became stranded here due to Covid-19 border closures made it back to the Pacific late last month.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says Summerfruit NZ, NZ Apples and Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated and HortNZ have worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Immigration NZ to find ways to get these workers home “because, currently, there are no commercial flights to Vanuatu”.

The New Zealand Defence Force took more than 1000 Vanuatu nationals home via eight flights during five days.

The first 100 returning ni-Vanuatu RSE workers touched down in Port Vila on June 19, according to the NZ High Commission in Vanuatu, with the final flights for this repatriation effort on June 23. “Preventing the spread of Covid-19 to Vanuatu remains a key priority for both our Governments, and we are all working to ensure Vanuatu’s entry requirements are met. All workers underwent a health pre-screening before boarding their flight,” says the NZHC in Vanuatu’s Facebook page.

Mike says not being able to return home was incredibly hard for the RSE workers “and we are thankful that these families are being reunited”.

“Vanuatu increased its quarantine capacity significantly over the past month, which has made this possible.”

Mike says community and industry efforts to look after the stranded RSE workers have been commendable.

“It’s been heartening to see the generosity that communities have provided to RSEs to make their stay here more comfortable. A good example of this is in the Teviot Valley, where residents donated winter clothing to Vanuatu RSEs.”

While here in New Zealand, Cyclone Harold devasted Vanuatu. And the horticulture industry has supported the Fruit of the Pacific Trust to help rebuild efforts on the ground.

To return the generosity the RSE workers have experienced in New Zealand, there have also been several stories about RSE workers helping out in their host communities.

The RSE scheme is highly regarded internationally and enables the growth of horticulture, which in turn provides permanent jobs for New Zealanders.

Looking ahead, Mike says it is clear that RSE workers will continue to play an important role in horticulture’s ongoing growth.

“Despite increased availability of NZ workers, RSE workers are highly skilled and experienced and will be needed if horticulture is to lead New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery.”


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