SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: From Canberra Foreign Minster Julie Bishop joins us now.
Minister, good morning. Now what sort of aid are we providing?
JULIE BISHOP: Sam, this is a devastating cyclone. The impact has been quite widespread in Vanuatu and surrounding islands. Yesterday we sent three military aircraft, two C 17s and a Hercules, filled with humanitarian supplies - water, sanitation equipment and medical supplies, hygiene kits and the like. We also sent personnel.
In addition we have provided $5 million to NGOs, the non-government organisations like the Red Cross and others, and our personnel are now on the ground. The kits are being distributed, for example, tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. We have sent enough, at this stage, for 5000 people. Two more planes will be leaving today for Vanuatu. The airport is now functioning again which is good news. Our teams on the ground will also be assessing the infrastructure damage, including around the hospital. So the aid workers are on the ground, they are very busy, and we’re continuing to assess the situation because it is early days. The long-term recovery effort will still be assessed over the coming days but in the meantime we are responding to requests for immediate humanitarian life-saving assistance.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: And I imagine those requests may increase as rescuers there on the ground get to those outer lying islands as we see the full extent of this. Are we expected to send more aid?
JULIE BISHOP: That may well be the case. This is very early on in the assessment stage. We are also sending planes for reconnaissance, taking imagery of the impact of the cyclone. Other nations have been affected but not to the same extent. We’re also providing support to Tuvalu and Solomon Islands but I believe that Fiji is okay at this stage but we are continuing to carry out the assessments.
The important thing is to identify immediate needs and respond to those and that’s what we’re seeking to do.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Minister there's apparently about 1100 Australians registered as living in Vanuatu. Do you know if all of those people are accounted for yet?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it is in fact more than that. We’ve now got 1400 Australians who have registered with our High Commission or on the Smartraveller website. We do estimate that at any one time there could be up to 3000 Australians. We are continuing to check all hotels and accommodation across Vanuatu to ensure that all Australians are accounted for.
We have not had any reports of Australians in distress. We are providing assisted returns to Australia, should they need them, on military planes that are going back but the commercial flights are operating again today. One flight left from Sydney this morning and two flights, I understand, are leaving from Port Vila this afternoon so people are able to get home. If not, I do urge people to call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade hotline on 1300 555 135.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: We will put that number on your website too Minister, so that people can get in touch.
I want to talk to you about this as well, Fairfax papers are reporting this morning more than 400 people are being interviewed each day at Australian airports to stop potential jihadists leaving. Muslim leaders are concerned that legitimate travellers are being unfairly profiled and targeted. What is your response to that?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is deeply concerned at the number of people who are travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight with the brutal terrorist organisation ISIL or Daesh so we are doing all we can to prevent people from going overseas to take up with this terrorist organisation. Not only are they putting their own lives at risk and adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq, but potentially, if they become experienced terrorists they could go elsewhere, indeed they could come back to Australia and carry out terrorist acts here. That’s been our experience in the past tragically. So we are doing all we can to screen those leaving the country that we believe might be a risk, a national security risk. But of course everybody is screened at airports across Australia. I go through screening every time I fly so there’s nothing unusual in that. What we are seeking to do is prevent those who may present a security risk from going to Iraq and Syria.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Julie Bishop, thanks for your time today.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Sam.
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