One of the roles EU Delegations across the world have played is in the repatriation of European citizens and the Delegation in New Zealand is no different.
New Zealand is a highly desired travel destination and there were up to 30 000 Europeans spread across the country as tourists or here on temporary visas, when the New Zealand Government decided to step up its measures against Covid-19. In a country as thinly populated and as far away from Europe as New Zealand is, logistics has been the ongoing challenge, with transit hubs closing and commercial options becoming increasingly scarce.
There are eight EU Member State Embassies in New Zealand with most covering the country from Australia. The Delegation has stepped in to set up a network of Ambassadors of the EU Member States and other European countries (Norway, Switzerland & UK) to exchange information and to discuss together how to best organise the return of those wishing to do so. With so many countries not resident in New Zealand, this gives all European countries access to relevant and timely information. The Delegation is an information hub for the Embassies, who then work with their citizens.
When New Zealand went to level four and lockdown took effect, it created a total travel ban here. It extended to domestic travel links, which prevented Europeans both from getting to an international airport and leaving the country.
European ministers, Ambassadors and their Embassies worked hard to convince the New Zealand Government to allow domestic travel to Auckland and Christchurch as well as create the conditions for repatriation flights. This was the number one priority for the EU Delegation and the European embassies.
The New Zealand Government set up a framework that allowed European citizens to leave the country from 2 April.
Since then, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have organised repatriation flights. The European Union Civil Protection Mechanism was activated for some repatriation flights, meaning that EU part-funds the flights. More than 30 flights from Auckland and Christchurch were organised, lifting 13 000 European citizens back home to their families.
What was the role of the EU Delegation in Wellington? The Delegation worked closely with the crisis centre in Berlin or with the Austrian Embassy in Australia to ensure that the EU citizens most in need were able to leave on the German and Austrian repatriation flights. The Delegation continuously compiled and updated priority passenger lists for these flights. Our staff has also assisted practically at the airports in Auckland and Christchurch to make the operations as smooth as possible and to help fill the planes with as many Europeans as possible.
The last flight is planned for 18 April. The Delegation is pleased to have been part of bringing Europeans home to their families.