Australians stranded overseas after coronavirus closed borders, slashed flights and prompted nationwide lockdowns have said they feel abandoned as they struggle to make their way home.
- Many countries around the world have closed their borders and locked down movement
- Australians abroad said they were not sure how they would get home before commercial flights stopped running
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned consular assistance may be limited
But many already overseas have told the ABC they are facing an uncertain road home.
Sydney woman Sue Ann Muller said she was in Guatemala for a “bucket list idea” of learning Spanish there for two weeks.
In the days before she was due to head back, the Guatemalan President announced he was closing the country’s border for 15 days to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Less than 24 hours after that announcement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told Australians who wanted to return to do it as soon as they could.
With Guatemala locked down, Ms Muller doesn’t know how that will be possible.
“Every now and then I just cry,” she said.
DFAT warned travellers that consular assistance may be increasingly limited due to restrictions on movement and other services.
Ms Muller said she had tried to contact the consulate in Mexico City and officials back in Australia, but “I’ve got nothing”.
While she said she was speaking regularly to her husband and adult children in Sydney, she wanted more recognition from authorities about her situation.
“I feel completely on my own,” Ms Muller said.
Couple turns to crowdfunding as ‘last resort’ to get home
Melbourne woman Bridget Caldwell and her new husband Jack Bright have turned to crowdfunding to get home to their children after cancelled flights and closed borders have left them stuck in France.
Ms Caldwell and Mr Bright got married in November, but due to Mr Bright’s chronic illness and arranging care for their children, they decided to wait until March to take their honeymoon.
But soon after they arrived in Paris, they were told flights they had booked to Spain were cancelled, along with their accommodation, as the country went into lockdown.
A few days later, Morocco — also on the agenda for their three-week holiday — followed suit. Now, France’s 67 million citizens are under lockdown as well.
“It’s really eerie. The streets are empty. We are only able to leave the house for essentials like groceries or medical supplies,” Ms Caldwell said.
“The situation escalated very quickly over here, one day we were watching the sunset over the Eiffel Tower and the next we were unable to leave.”
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The freelance writer estimates they have lost about $4,000 in cancelled flights and accommodation, which is unlikely to be reimbursed by their insurance.
Ms Caldwell said turning to a GoFundMe to return home was “a really last resort”.
“Asking for help in these times is really hard as everyone is doing it tough, but we need to get home,” she said.
Stranded on Philippines birthday trip
Melbourne man Tanila De Silva and his friends had their flights home from the Philippines cancelled “multiple times” after President Rodrigo Duterte imposed sweeping travel and quarantine restrictions.
They are now stranded on Boracay Island as what was meant to be a nine-day trip for Mr De Silva’s 30th birthday now has an uncertain end date.
Mr De Silva said he had checked with the government Smart Traveller website regularly before leaving Australia and “there was no way to predict this happening to such a magnitude in any way”.
“The information we received from the Australian embassy, Australian consulate and the emergency 24/7 travel line based in Sydney was very confusing and contradictory. We are still unsure what is going on and how we can make it home,” he said.
Mr De Silva said he had been making contacts in Boracay and in Australia to try and arrange to get to Manila to catch a commercial flight home, but was not sure if that would be possible.
“We came to celebrate my birthday and I feel like I’ve let down my friends and hope that I can make it up to them … it is a tough pill to swallow,” he said.
Former Victorian MP ‘marooned in Morocco’
Former Victorian Liberal MP and parliamentary speaker Christine Fyffe said she and her friend Andrea McCall were virtually “marooned in Morocco” after trying and failing to leave their holiday.
She said she had had five different flights cancelled in the past week, often just hours before they were meant to depart.
Ms Fyffe, who served in Victoria’s legislative assembly from 1999 to 2002 and 2006 to 2018, told ABC Radio Melbourne on Wednesday her stress levels were “pretty high”.
She said DFAT told her to try and get on one of 30 commercial flights arranged to get UK citizens out of Morocco, but had so far had no luck.
Ms Fyffe said she and her friend had the funds to pay for accommodation and additional flights, but she was worried about those who were not in her position.
“There would be a lot of people out there … who won’t have anywhere to stay tonight, in many countries.”
Round-the-world trip ends in lockdown
Adelaide couple Tom Graue and Mei-Lin Schwarz sold their house and possessions early this year and had planned to spend all of 2020 travelling around the world.
As the situation changed, they decided to cut the trip short, and planned to travel from Bolivia to the Chilean capital of Santiago to fly home.
They were on a bus in the Bolivian desert when they found out Chile had closed its borders.
Mr Graue and Ms Schwarz raced back to the Bolivian capital of Sucre, just before the Mayor started turning busses around and border closures were announced for that country as well.
“It is physically impossible for us to leave via commercial means,” Mr Graue said.
He said the consulate in Bolivia had given the couple conflicting advice and his contact with DFAT over the phone had been “underwhelming”.
“[We] understand it’s an evolving situation however the speed in which DFAT provides updates to Smart Traveller is not fast enough to make informed decisions on when and how to leave,” he said.
‘Not a lot we can do’ as Peru closes borders
In Peru, central Victorian man Rob Fisher is now waiting out a lockdown with members of his cricket team, who he said were “all unsure of what our future holds”.
The Kangaroo Flat man and his teammates from Bendigo and Queensland had been playing games across South America, and were in the Peruvian capital Lima when they were told all domestic and international travel had been banned.
“We were trapped,” Mr Fisher said.
Peru’s social distancing measures include a curfew and strict rules about only leaving accommodation to buy food, healthcare products or to withdraw cash.
Mr Fisher said he had been unable to reach Qantas, his airline, by phone, email or through his travel agent and was expecting to pay “handsomely” if a flight home was available.
“Everyone here is frustrated with our situation but also pragmatic about it. We are resigned that there is not a lot that we can do except to constantly remind our MPs that we are here and would certainly love some assistance to go home,” he said.
Other Australians trapped in Peru told the ABC they had been unable to secure a flight back to Australia, and the embassy closed its doors on March 15.
Travellers anxious ‘until I’m in the air’
Many Australians the ABC spoke to said they had been struggling to find out information from their airlines — many of which have been hit hard by the crisis.
Yesterday, Virgin Australia announced similar measures to suspend all international services from March 30 to June 14, and slash its domestic capacity.
Cassandra Murrell is currently holed up at a hotel near Heathrow Airport in London and is waiting for a flight to Melbourne on Saturday.
The Australian National University student had been studying in Lyon but managed to leave France before borders were closed there.
“I am a little worried about [flight cancellations] because of how quickly things seem to be moving. The arrivals board at Lyon Airport after the lockdown had at least 10 cancelled flights and I don’t want mine to be one of them,” she said.
She said the coronavirus response in France moved rapidly and she was worried with the “do not travel” advice from DFAT, more flights would be cancelled or become prohibitively expensive.
Other Australians living in the UK told the ABC they had spent hours on hold to airlines or visited crowded airports, but had not received a concrete answer about when they could fly home.
Melbourne woman Erin Kebby, who was in Los Angeles for a three-month trip to audition and take acting classes, said she had been unable to get through to WebJet to change to an earlier flight.
The cost of flights to Australia has soared, and Ms Kebby said she had seen some airlines charging more than $7,000 for a one-way trip.
Brisbane researcher Mae West, who has been living in the US for the past year, said there was “constant uncertainty and anxiety” surrounding a Hawaiian airlines flight due to leave on March 21.
“It seems that I will just make it. But myself, my husband and family will not breathe easy until I am in the air,” she said.
Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days.
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