Tens of thousands of Australians will be forced to spend Christmas away from home, family and friends this year.
- 36,000 citizens and permanent residents of Australia, who have registered with DFAT, are still unable to return to the country
- Colleen Ryan has been stuck in Russia and is unsure if the Russian Government will renew her visa beyond February
- Kate Jeffries is trying to return to Australia in time to keep her job
In September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped to have “as many people home, if not all of them, by Christmas”.
Since then, more than 43,800 Australians have returned from overseas, including more than 17,000 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
But for many Australians who’ve been locked out of the country for up to nine months, their hopes of being home for the holidays are evaporating.
At least 36,000 citizens and permanent residents who have registered with DFAT are still unable to return.
The hotel quarantine cap of 6,000 arrivals a week has led to strict rationing of tickets, with many of them going to those who can afford to pay top dollar.
Waiting in Russian winter
In Russia, Colleen Ryan had been excitedly preparing to arrive home on Christmas Day. This week her flight was cancelled.
Instead of Christmas at home, the 60-year-old will be in Sochi relying on the goodwill of the family who had employed her as a private teacher.
In August, her original flight home was cancelled.
“I had to talk my employer into keeping me on when it was difficult to get home, taking reduced wages,” she told RN Breakfast.
In September, she was able to convince Russian authorities to extend her visa until February.
“I am really, really eager to try and get home before then. Especially, because I don’t know whether they will extend it for a second time,” she said.
Ms Ryan has been advised by her airline that she might not get a flight before April.
She has not heard from DFAT about any repatriation flights from Russia.
“I know I am not the only person in Russia trying to get back to Australia. I’m not just asking for myself, I’m asking for many other Australians around the world.
“To me, repatriation is thinking of people in dire need, not people that can afford thousands of dollars.
“To book a flight now, it really has become elitist, you have to have a lot of money or go into a lot of debt.”
Still a chance to make it home before Christmas
A young Australian family trapped in Canada for nine months is still holding onto hope they will be home for Christmas.
Dave and Kate Jeffries, with toddler Mitchell, were on a month-long visit in February to see Mr Jeffries’s mother, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
“It certainly does concern me that the majority of Australians don’t understand the plight or how hard it has been for those of us who have been stuck overseas,” Mr Jeffries said.
Since March, the family has had multiple flights cancelled and are currently booked on a December 18 flight.
“This is not about getting home by Christmas, we were supposed to be home by Easter,” Mr Jeffries said.
The family feels abandoned.
“When we see the entire Indian cricket team and their families, we see the Australian Open tennis players welcomed in, I’m happy Australia is in a position where we can bring sport back but it should have been us before them. Not us after.”
There’s a lot at stake for the Jeffries family catching next week’s flight.
Ms Jeffries, who is on maternity leave, will lose her job if she can’t be home by February.
Mr Jeffries said despite registering with DFAT, there has been no support.
“Our first response was a call a few weeks ago, it was really odd because I got the feeling he was trying to take us off that list,” he said.
He has this message for the Prime Minister.
“Put in place a queue like other countries have done. Show some leadership, border security and quarantine is a federal issue.
“Stand up for your citizens. Bring us home.”
Health worker stuck in the UK
Susan, a health worker who can’t be identified with her real name for professional reasons, will be spending Christmas in the UK with her Australian partner and two-year-old son after getting trapped there in March.
In ordinary times, Christmas in a quaint English village would be idyllic but the family is running out of money and Susan has been notified by her employer to return by February or lose her job.
On top of that they have the added stress of squatters taking over their home.
“Our house in Melbourne has been sitting empty for months and we had squatters come in,” Susan said.
“I think with the COVID laws in Victoria at the moment we have to go to court to get them removed and I think that’s going to be a difficult process.”
The family left Australia in February for a dream six-month round-the-world holiday.
Upon arriving in the UK in March, Susan contacted the Australian High Commission who advised it would be safer for the family to stay in the UK if they had somewhere to live.
With return flights already booked for September the family rented a home but since September, their flights have been cancelled six times.
Now Susan has gambled on a business class ticket for January. She hopes to return to save her job, get some income and sort out their home before the rest of the family tries to return in March.
Susan has described her experience with DFAT as terrible.
“The emergency hotline that was given on all of the DFAT emails, the phone number doesn’t even get through.”
Expecting more flight cancellations
Melbourne couple Alyse Brown and Geoff O’Connell were working in Cambridge when COVID-19 struck and in September, their return flights home were cancelled.
Stranded in the UK, Alyse was able to extend her visa until March and negotiated with the university, where she was on contract, for additional work.
Ms Brown said she never had faith in the promise that Australians stranded overseas would be back by Christmas, which she described as laughable.
“It was very quickly shot down as a realistic notion with the number of flights that he intended to organise with the number of people that needed to get home,” she said.
“Their main issue was quarantine space and at this point the [Federal] Government hasn’t been able to fix that.”
Ms Brown and Mr O’Connell have return flights booked in February.
“We still expect to be kicked off that one,” Ms Brown said.
They recently turned down an offer of tickets on a repatriation flight that would cost $17,000 for the two of them.
Breaking down in tears she spoke about the stress the couple was under.
“It’s absurdly stressful. There’s rhetoric back home that’s hard to deal with,” she said.
“There’s the sentiment from the Australian public saying: ‘Well, why didn’t you just come home?'”
The couple said the only contact they have had from DFAT was a recent call asking three scripted questions about whether they wanted to return and when.
“The notion that you can’t come back to your home country and that your home country has done its best to shut you out. It’s a bit distressing.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for DFAT said its highest priority was helping vulnerable Australians overseas.
Since September 18, more than 43,800 Australians have returned from overseas, including more than 17,000 Australians registered with DFAT. Of those, more than 3,700 were vulnerable.