Thousands of Australians stranded overseas due to tight government border controls


(CNN) – No job, no visa, no health care – and stopped returning home. This powder cage of misfortune is the current reality for thousands of expats holding the ninth most powerful passport in the world.

While circumstances vary, one point remains the same – Australians abroad feel abandoned by their government during the coronovirus epidemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a cap of just under 4,000 international arrivals per week, marked Sunday after two months. He took this step in response to the country’s second coronovirus wave, sparked by a hotel quarantine security scandal.

Ticket prices have skyrocketed due to barrage of ticket prices and backlog of canceled flights.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says at least 25,000 Australians, many of whom are economically and medically vulnerable, have reported a need to come home since July. However, Australia’s board of airline representatives estimates that the exact number of people stranded is close to 100,000.

Prior to the epidemic, the Australian accent echoes around the world, with more than one million Australians living and working overseas at any given time.

Before the cap was imposed, Australia already had some of the most rigorous coronovirus travel measures in the world. Since March, hotel quarantine has been made mandatory, entry of foreign tourists has been banned and citizens have been banned.

Now people trying to return home are Australian citizens who, not holiday makers, left the country before the epidemic.

“You should have come home”

Stuck in Abu Dhabi, Stephen Spencer is now struggling to return to Australia with his family.

Courtesy Kate Spencer

According to the DFAT, in the first three months after the international border was closed, more than 357,000 Australian citizens returned home.

In contrast in the last two months, where the cap restricted entry to just over 30,000 Australian citizens. It is argued by critics, including Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, that citizens should return to the initial stage of the epidemic.

Birmingham said, “If you wanted to come back, in most circumstances you should be back already.”

Many Australians currently stranded abroad told CNN that the government had urged citizens to return home in March, a message aimed at short-term travelers.

Those who had a permanent job, home and savings were advised to stay in their consulate. In March, no one could have predicted the pace at which the epidemic would take, nor would it affect their lives. Six months on, many still have a secure income and home, while others have set aside their lives.

For Stephen Spencer in Abu Dhabi, returning to Australia in March would mean leaving his job, promoting his children’s education and leaving his home – nothing safe on the other side. Spencer and his wife Kate chose the most stable option for their children, which was to ride it in Abu Dhabi.

Several months later, Spencer lost his job and is now struggling to get his family home. As a sponsor to his wife and teen, once he revokes his visa, an act he must do before leaving, they will have just 30 days to get out of the country.

“If we are unable to fly to Australia, we are effectively living as refugees, have no legal right to live in the United Arab Emirates and a homeland that will not allow us to return,” he said Explained. “I can’t believe how quickly the Australian government left its citizens overseas.”

It is a retired story by many of the stranded people.

Sara Tasnim was living in Canada when an invisible enemy caused the world to go into hibernation. He had a stable job and was in the process of permanent residency. However, her application was rejected by the Government of Canada in June, resulting in loss of employment. She is now running out of money and unable to work while she fights to get home.

“I am worried that eventually I will face deportation,” Tasnim said. “I’m running out of time.”

He has been advised by his embassy to withdraw money from his retirement fund. It was an option made available to all Australians earlier in the year, however, it is not one she feels comfortable with.

“I think they have forgotten us”

Emily Altamirano and her uncle, who contracted coronavirus.

Emily Altamirano and her uncle, who contracted coronavirus.

Courtesy Emily Altmirano

For others, it was not stability that forced them to live abroad, but rather a lack of options.

For Emily Altamirano, the flight cap is just the latest hurdle in a six-month bid to return home. When international borders began to close, Altamirano was visiting family in Peru.

Commercial flights to Australia from the region ceased, and she did not board a repatriation flight following the contract of her uncle Coronovirus. After his recovery, he has since been trying to fly to Australia via the United States, however, has failed to gain tickets due to the caps.

“They are so [the government] Altamirano said, “Forget us.”

Carmelina Simpa also feels that she is left to herself. Late last year, she traveled with her youngest son to Italy to care for her mother, Rosa, who had cancer. Her husband and elder son lived in Australia.

Refusing to leave her mother on her death bed, Simpa remained in Italy through the onset of the epidemic. Last month, her mother passed away and since then Simpa has not been able to reunite her family due to the flight cap.

Simpa described his desperation to return home, “My son asked me to try to go to Australia by boat, and I really saw if I could travel by cargo ship.”

Carmelina featured in Siapa, Italy with her youngest son.  Her husband and eldest son are in Australia.

Carmelina featured in Siapa, Italy with her youngest son. Her husband and eldest son are in Australia.

Courtesy Carmelina Simpa

Return home price tag

For some, returning to Australia means leaving loved ones.

Brooke Soward, an Australian migrant in South Africa, says he saw the Australian passport as a four-leaf clover. But now, the kangaroo and emu coat of arms are proving to be a curse.

With work drying up and an overstayed visa, he is trying to return home from Cape Town. Her departure would mean leaving her South African lover, unsure when he would see her again.

“It came down to a decision where I need to be, not where I want to be,” Sourd explained.

“This perpetually unknown feeling when you can find a home for your family, when you can earn income again, when you can afford health care … is enough to keep you up at night, every night.”

While the organ of love is an intangible loss, the price tag of returning home is very tangible.

For Sovereign, a one-way ticket from Johannesburg to Sydney starts at 12 times more than the normal one-way ticket (about US $ 8,650).

With no commercial flights available, she booked a chartered flight, which resulted in her rejection by the Australian government. Simply put, many Australian citizens expressed the need to come home from South Africa.

Running out of options, Sword flew to New Zealand and hired a private jet to Australia. This option was approved by the Australian government, although New Zealand, which also has strict travel measures, declined its transit visa.

Brooke Soward and her South African lover Andre.

Brooke Soward and her South African lover Andre.

Courtesy Brooke Soward

This is one of many examples that have convinced Australians that the rich are being given priority over the weak.

In early September, the Australian Government announced a lump sum loan of AUD $ 2,000 for individuals stranded abroad to book economy class tickets. Not only was it a drop in the water for the travel expenses of many unemployed, but it also fails to meet the mark of present reality.

Many of those stranded told CNN that it is currently impossible to get home on economy class tickets. Airlines are giving priority to business class tickets, due to the financial viability of the flight for about 20 passengers. The business class bears the top of the price tag, charging an additional $ 3,000 AUD mandatory hotel quarantine fee upon arrival.

Since the epidemic began, Qatar Airways has been at the forefront of bringing back Australians, after Australia’s national airline, Qantas, to stop all international flights.

Last week, Qatar Airways asked the Australian government to raise the cap, arguing that it is not financially viable for the airline to run only 90% empty.

“too little too late”

Commercial flights flying into Australia these days are almost empty due to the regime's strict arrival.

Commercial flights flying into Australia these days are almost empty due to the regime’s strict arrival.

Courtesy Patricia Sterling

With Cap currently in place until 24 October, Prime Minister Morrison has acknowledged the need to raise them, but has not yet provided a way out. Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday that he “wants to make sure that every Australian who wants to come home comes home by Christmas”. It is a promise that many of those who are stranded see as a case of very little delay.

Carol Thompson says her family is shattered several months after attempting to get a 21-year-old son, now suffering from severe depression, home from the United Kingdom.

“I’m desperate to get my son home,” he said.

Soward reiterated Thompson’s pressures, saying, “Living in a global epidemic is enough to challenge a person’s mental health, let alone being trapped in a foreign country.”

Meanwhile, a now jammed backlog of flights has prepared a long way for expats like Carol Shank.

“I am already canceling flights going out of Dubai since January,” said Schenk. “It leaves no hope for us that we return home any time soon.”

CNN has requested comment from Morrison and other government officials. However, he has not responded at the time of publication.

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