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Stuck overseas, Aussies struggle to come home

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Overseas Australians are struggling to return, due to the Morrison Government's caps on incoming arrivals (Screenshot via YouTube)

Australian citizens stranded overseas due to COVID-19 and flight caps, feel abandoned by the Morrison Government, writes Candice Dix.

THE THING about being Australian is, we don’t leave anyone behind. Right?

I reckon our politicians have forgotten that.

Like many Aussies, I was initially relieved when the Morrison Government closed our borders internationally to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That was until I found myself stranded overseas.

My husband, our twin babies and I were separated from our two young sons, Beau (five years) and Arlo (two years), for more than three months because of COVID-19 and flight caps. Even though we are back and safe, it will take me a long time to recover. Every day, my heart goes out to the thousands of Aussies – seriously, about 36,000 – who are still living this nightmare.

Our Ukrainian surrogate, Anastasia, was already halfway through her pregnancy when COVID-19 hit. So, when she was almost full-term, we had no choice but to travel overseas to be there for our twins. To be clear, they are biologically our children.

In early July 2020, we had to make the hardest decision of our lives — take our sons or leave them behind? After agonising over this decision and changing our minds constantly, we finally decided they were safer with my parents in Perth. We promised our boys we’d be back soon. Australian Border Force had approved our travel and knew our return dates.

But we weren’t back soon. While we were away, flight caps were introduced and we were effectively shut out from our home.

There have been mixed reactions to stranded Australians, so let me clear a few things up.

Our flight back to Australia had 35 passengers, aboard a 300-capacity aeroplane. Caps have created a demand and supply dilemma which was inevitable in the stressed commercial airline industry. If the airline can only sell 35 tickets, do you think they’d prefer to sell the economy or the first-class ones? Yep… money talks.

Seat caps don’t discriminate. Stranded Aussies, international business travellers, international students and movie stars are all vying for the same seats. No priority is given to taxpaying citizens of Australia!

The vast majority of stranded Aussies have paid for a flight home only to be cancelled at the last minute. No one expects a free ride. I cannot tell you how hopeless it feels when you have pinned all your hopes on a flight, only to be informed hours before take-off that you’ve been “bumped”.

Many stranded Australians are not overseas by choice. They’ve travelled to be with dying parents, or (like us) the birth of children. For Aussies residing overseas, advice from the Government was to stay abroad if safe and still earning. Soon, we were all in the same boat, but not the floating kind.

Can we still call Australia home? The word "un-Australian" is bandied about a lot these days. But I didn't think it applied to our own Government. Stopping Australian citizens from coming home would have been unimaginable pre-2020. But no longer. This raises so many legal and ethical questions.

We felt abandoned as we struggled to stay positive while Zooming with our boys each day. “Your next flight home is likely to be in January 2021”, we were informed. Try telling that to a five-year-old boy whose little shoulders sink lower every time we have no news. 

My husband and I always assumed that being a citizen of this country meant something. We thought that returning to our home, especially in a time of crisis, was a fundamental right.

Ironically, we found this excerpt on the inside cover of our passports:

'…allow the bearer, an Australian Citizen, to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.'

In the spirit of being Australian, let’s get all our mates home. Now.

Let Aussies board the planes first. Bring them home not because they can pay first class, but because they are "one of us". They are, we are, Australian.

Candice Dix has worked in the occupational health field for over 11 years and is currently employed as an Occupational Hygiene Specialist within the private sector of Western Australia. You can follow Candice on Twitter @dix_candice.

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