Desalyn Bowyer hasn’t seen her children since February. Then her father died in July and she was unable to attend the funeral.
Bowyer, 40, moved from Sydney to Hong Kong last December to work. She planned to return to Australia every two weeks to spend time with her children.
Little did she know that she would endure more than nine months of flight cancellations and disappointed hopes. Now that more months have passed without her being able to return to Australia, her children, ages 7 and 14, have come to their own conclusions.
“You think I left you,” Bowyer said over the phone.
Far from being alone: more than 35,000 Australians have been stranded overseas, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Commerce. Everyone is trying to get home despite strict immigration regulations designed to stop the spread of Covid-19.
In July, the Australian government introduced a limit of just under 4,000 international arrivals per week to curb the rise in Covid-19 cases and ease pressure on government-assigned hotel quarantine facilities.
Since then, the upper limit for arrivals has fluctuated. Around 5,600 people enter the country every week.
In October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that eight additional commercial flights would be allowed from London, New Delhi and Johannesburg, 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 Commission on Human Rights, told the country’s Senate that the arrival limits could violate Article 10 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by preventing timely family reunification.
“Australians have been and are potentially exposed to unnecessary restrictions on their rights and freedoms,” said Croucher.
In a statement, the Australian Commission on Human Rights said it had “received a significant number of human rights complaints from people unable to return to Australia due to the Australian limit on international arrivals”.
Australia has recorded 27,904 cases of the coronavirus and 908 deaths as of January. Melbourne, the country’s second largest city, has seen one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. House arrest and travel restrictions were imposed for 111 days. The Australian economy has plunged into its first recession since 1991.
Overall, the country has fought a second wave of falls more successfully than most other industrialized countries and registered 11 new cases in the 24 hours between Sunday and Monday at 8.30 p.m.
Australians have to pay for their mandatory two-week hotel quarantines. 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 if Australians manage to get home, this is a trip that can be costly.
Benjamin Pisani, 41, a coffee shop owner, applied for a waiver to leave Australia in May and open a business in Ios, Greece. When it was time for him to return, he could not do so until after asking for help from the Australian government in Canberra and abroad several times, and then receiving general reply emails.
He finally secured a government-chartered flight to Perth on Wednesday and was given a loan to cover the costs – he now has to repay AU $ 1,500.
Because of the uncertainty of waiting for confirmation, Pisani booked a flight from Athens to London plus an overnight stay and then a flight from London to Perth – a total of AU $ 3,000. He canceled these flights and lost AU $ 800 Australian in the process.
“I still feel disappointed” Pisani wrote on Facebook Messenger. “I had to beg and fight and prove I was stranded before they even approved this ticket. Which I don’t have to do to enter the country of my birth.”
He will now have to be quarantined for two weeks in Perth and will have to take another government flight to Sydney upon his release. However, he added that “thousands of people are not as lucky as I am”.
Australia will extend international passenger restrictions through January 31st. Further increases are possible as additional quarantine points become available.
Prime Minister Morrison had previously said the goal was to get all Australians home by Christmas.
Secretary of State Marise Payne’s office did not respond to a request for comment.