Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka was at the Nadi International Airport early this morning to welcome home 255 pilgrims who returned from the annual Feast of the Tabernacle in Israel.

Rabuka said their safe return is a testament to the resilience of our nation and the Fijian spirit that binds us together.

He highlighted the country’s strength in times of need is a source of great pride and unity and said the Government will continue to work diligently to ensure the well-being and safety of all Fijians, both at home and abroad.

Rabuka also expressed his gratitude to those involved in bringing home 255 Fijians back to their homeland on a flight that departed from Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday.

He said amongst the passengers were Fiji’s Centre for Agricultural Technology students who were pursuing studies in agriculture in Israel, the 200 Fijians who had journeyed to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of Tabernacles as well as a group of Pacific Islanders.

“I want to acknowledge the tireless efforts of the Fiji Airways crew and Incident Team who worked diligently to navigate the complex risks and options associated with planning this crucial flight.”

“Their dedication and expertise have made this mission possible and have reunited Fijians citizens with their families and loved ones. This mission is a historic one for the Fijian Government, as it represents our very first rescue operation.”

The Prime Minister also extended his gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their coordination and arrangements with international allies.

Rabuka added that the collaboration and support from Fiji’s friends and partners have been instrumental in ensuring the safe return of our citizens.

Meanwhile, on the instigation of the Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, the diplomatic machinery kicked into gear on Saturday 07 October at the news of the outbreak of rocket fires into Israel.

Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), established an Operation Centre over the past three days to coordinate efforts to repatriate the 198 Fiji nationals and 48 fellow Pacific and international Pilgrims.

Much gratitude is owed to Prime Minister for his astute leadership during this situation. The arms of government and outside of government were able to kick into gear with his clear decisions and directions.

“The result that we celebrate today is a demonstration of his leadership. Vinaka saka vakalevu”.

“The Ministry would also like to acknowledge our Missions in New York, Canberra and Abu Dhabi for their quick actions and work behind the scenes through negotiations, facilitation, providing information on the ground and preparing contingencies to support planning at our Suva HQ.

“We also acknowledge with thanks the initiative and assurance of support the Israel Embassy in Canberra and its Honorary Consul in Suva, and the U.S Embassy in Suva provided, reaffirming the close ties between our countries.

This was not an ordinary flight for Fiji Airways, to fly to an uncertain space in a time of conflict”.

“Their forward-positioning of an aircraft in Hong Kong to be ready at a moment’s notice to operate within a tight time window at Ben Gurion airport speaks volume of their expertise and commitment to service. To the management, pilots and crews, we recognise their courage, sense of duty and faith in pulling off this mission. To them we owe much gratitude.

“To the pilgrims themselves, we are thankful for their support from the start of the conflict. They provided information and updates from where they were, they kept to movement schedules when timing was critical. We thank them for their high spirit, faith and prayers,” the foreign Ministry said.

Included in the repatriation were the 13 students from Navuso Agriculture College who had just commenced their studies in Israel before the conflict started.

The repatriation flight, FJ2394, arrived at 3.23AM this morning, Thursday 12 October 2023, into Nadi International Airport.

Prime Minister Rabuka was at the airport to receive them home, led by the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi. A traditional welcome ceremony of ‘Vakasenuqanuqa’ with the presence of the Momo Na Tui Nadi, the CEO of Fiji Airways and other senior officials was performed to welcome them.

“As we celebrate the return of our Fijian and Pacific Island Pilgrims, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is mindful of the ongoing conflict in Israel and ask for prayers, for the people and State of Israel who are suffering through this crisis, the foreign Ministry said.