Professor Petra Butler's repatriation efforts in the Pacific Islands

Professor Dr Petra Butler and Dr Timo Bauer-Savage both “missed” the first three and a half weeks of the lockdown. Professor Butler assisted the Embassy’s repatriation effort of tourists and volunteer-workers who were in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. Dr Bauer-Savage, Deputy Ambassador of Germany in New Zealand, who is currently pursuing further studies at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Law, was in charge of Germany’s repatriation programme in New Zealand.

Professor Butler in front of the German Embassy

One of the challenges that Professor Butler encountered during the repatriation effort in the Pacific Islands was the fact that the small number of German and European citizens were dispersed in an area larger than Europe. The Pacific Islands having implemented strict COVID-19 regulations, the distances to be travelled (including mandatory crew rest times), and the unfortunate timing of cyclone Harold presented huge logistical challenges.

With the help of the German Embassy in Canberra, Germany’s Honorary Consuls in the respective Pacific Island countries, and some thinking outside the box, 328 European citizens were able to return home. The repatriation flights also enabled the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies to Vanuatu and the Cook Islands respectively.

Although relieved to return home, many tourists left with heavy hearts having enjoyed true Pacific Island hospitality in a time of crisis. One German couple, who lost everything when their lodge in Tonga was completely destroyed by cyclone Harold, was particularly thankful for the clothes and food they received from locals.

“It was fantastic to see the tremendous sense of community and responsibility for others among the German tourists and  their European spirit—we were asked constantly by German tourists whether we would take the other Europeans in their hotels with us, too”, Professor Butler said.