Australians stranded abroad struggle to return home amid coronavirus pandemic
Desalyn Bowyer has not seen her children since February. Then her father passed away in July and she was unable to attend the funeral.
Bowyer, 40, moved from Sydney to Hong Kong last December to work. She was planning to return to Australia every two weeks to spend time with her children.
Little did she know she would endure more than nine months of flight cancellations and dashed hopes. Now, as more months go by in which she is unable to return to Australia, her children, aged 7 and 14, have come to their own conclusion.
“They think I abandoned them,” Bowyer said over the phone.
It is far from the only one: More than 35,000 Australians are stranded abroad, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, all trying to return home despite strict immigration rules designed to stop the spread of Covid19.
In July, the australian government introduced a cap of just under 4,000 international arrivals per week to curb the increase in Covid-19 cases and ease pressure on government-assigned hotel quarantine facilities.
Since then, the ceiling for arrivals has fluctuated, with around 5,600 people now entering the country every week.
In October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison ad that eight additional commercial flights from London, New Delhi and Johannesburg would be authorized, with the aim of allowing 5,000 more Australians to return over the next six months.
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Last month, Rosalind Croucher, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, told the country’s Senate that the arrival caps could violate Article 10 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child because they prevented timely family reunification.
“Australians have been and continue to be exposed to potentially unnecessary restrictions on their rights and freedoms,” Croucher said.
In a statement, the Australian Human Rights Commission said it had received “a significant number of human rights complaints from people who have been unable to return to Australia due to Australia’s limit on international arrivals” .
Australia has recorded 27,904 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths since January. Melbourne, the second largest city in the country, has endured one of the strictest in the world blockages, with home confinement and travel restrictions imposed for 111 days. The Australian economy entered its first recession since 1991.
Overall, the country was more successful in combating a second wave of cases than most other developed countries, registering 11 new cases within 24 hours between Sunday and Monday at 8:30 p.m.
Australians must pay for their own mandatory two-week quarantines at hotels. The cost for an adult is AU $ 3,000 (US $ 2,000). For a family of four, the cost is AU $ 5,000 (US $ 3,600).
Even when Australians do manage to get home, it can be a very expensive trip.
Cafe owner Benjamin Pisani, 41, requested an exemption to leave Australia in May to open a business in Ios, Greece. When it was time for him to return, he was only able to do so after repeatedly reaching out to the Australian government in Canberra and overseas for help, only to receive emails from generic response.
Eventually he got a government chartered flight to Perth on Wednesday and got a loan to cover the cost – he now has to pay back AU $ 1,500.
But due to the uncertainty of waiting for confirmation, Pisani booked a flight from Athens to London plus one night’s accommodation, then a flight from London to Perth – a total of AU $ 3,000. He canceled those flights and lost AU $ 800 in the process.
“I always feel disappointed,” Pisani wrote via Facebook Messenger. “I had to beg, fight and prove I was stuck before they even approved this post. Which I don’t think I have to do to get into my country of birth.”
He must now quarantine himself for two weeks in Perth and board another government flight to Sydney upon his release. He added, however, that “thousands of people are not as lucky as I am”.
Australia will extend international air passenger caps until January 31, with further increases possible if additional quarantine places become available.
Morrison, the Prime Minister, had previously said the goal was to get all Australians home by Christmas.
The office of Foreign Minister Marise Payne did not respond to a request for comment.