Coronavirus: 35,000 Australians overseas, 26,000 want to come home

More than 26,000 Australians overseas have registered a want to come home.

Australians and families unable to return to Australia say they fear losing their jobs and houses if they cannot urgently return.

Government officials told a COVID-19 Senate committee on Thursday that 35,700 Australians had registered with the Smartraveller website, with 26,800 of those intending to come home.

The top five countries Australians are stranded in are India, the UK, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa.

About 4000 Australians deemed vulnerable have been unable to get back due to restrictions on inbound flight numbers.

From Friday, the cap on the number of arrivals will rise from 4000 to 6000 a week, with some states to gradually increase hotel quarantine capacity from Monday.

The Prime Minister’s Department told the committee that Scott Morrison had not requested RAAF flights be considered because there were quarantine constraints.

“There are approximately 20,000 spare seats of capacity on commercial airlines coming into the country each week,” Simon Duggan said.

“The availability of flights is not the binding constraint up to this point.”

The committee was told the department had not investigated using Commonwealth facilities to bring more Australians home.

Mr Duggan said the “real limiting factor” in increasing quarantine capacity was the availability of trained medical professionals, with almost all ADF medical staff deployed.

Senator Katy Gallagher has raised concerns about why it took the Prime Minister’s Department 70 days to respond ‘no’ to a question on notice. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia

NSW resident Deanne Vowels has been stuck in the UK with her husband and five children since April when their return flight was cancelled.

“It feels like a long-term boyfriend cheating on me,” she said.

“I have given my life to Australia and in my time of need they have dumped me.”

Ms Vowels said prior to this year she always believed in the Australian values of “never leaving behind a mate” and a fair go for all.

“But when seeking help from my country I’ve been told from my fellow countrymen there is nothing we can do,” she said.

Ms Vowels told a COVID-19 Senate committee on Thursday that they were offered seats on repatriation flights in June but could not afford the $70,000 price tag.

The family left Australia two days before the March travel ban was enforced because they risked losing $10,000 on their flights after years of saving if they cancelled.

Once they arrived in the UK to attend a 50th wedding anniversary and family reunion, they were forced into lockdowns and the celebrations were canned.

Their return flights in April, and four rescheduled flights, have also been cancelled.

She said business flights would cost the family $120,000 – which they do not have – and they would “lose our homes, our jobs, our everything” because they had exhausted all leave entitlements.

Ms Vowels said her travel agent asked if she would consider sending her children home by themselves, while a diplomat asked if they had set up a GoFundMe page.

“The solution to this problem is so simple, lift the caps,” she said.

“It’s mentally, financially and physically detrimental to our own people.”

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally holds a photo of stranded Australians Deanne and Paul Vowels and their five children. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia


Melburnian Peta Stoyanovich has pleaded for the return of her husband Luke and mother-in-law Stanika from Serbia.

Mr Stoyanovich was granted an exemption to travel to Serbia to bring his mother, 79, to Australia after his father died in July.

But three attempts to fly home since August have been grounded, and now the pair have been put on separate flights.

“It’s absolute madness,” Ms Stoyanovich said.

“They are not stranded, they are abandoned by our country.”

Ms Stoyanovich said she’d had an emotional breakdown and was forced to “pick myself off the floor” after spending hours every day on the phone to authorities.

“How am I meant to instil a sense of national pride?” she said.

“You have so poorly let us down.”

Ms Stoyanovich said her husband had missed his son’s 18th birthday and was set to miss his daughter’s 21st.

She slammed the Government’s handling of the situation, saying “kinder mums” could put a better plan together.

She had one message for Mr Morrison: “Do your bloody job.”


Victorian mother Margaret – who did not wish to give her surname – fears for the “safety and security” of her son Gabriel, who is stranded in Malaysia after his work visa expired and his flight home was cancelled.

She said the Australian High Commission gave her son incorrect advice about his visa, and she now feared he could end up in detention.

“You can’t turn your back on Australian citizens stranded overseas,” Margaret said.

“We need to look at this in a compassionate way.”

Margaret told the committee she had written “numerous times” to all state leaders about the flight caps and said the rise to 6000 people was a “drop in the ocean”.

“Victoria needs to come back on-board,” she said.

“I’m not sure who is running this country, it appears to be the state leaders.

“I’m not sure what Scott Morrison’s role is, but I wish he would put his foot down.”

Margaret also proposed freeing up space in hotel quarantine by letting people arriving from countries with low coronavirus cases quarantine at home and wear “an electronic wristband” to track them.

Claire Burles and Andrew Burles with one-year-old Chester got a flight home after their story appeared in the media. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia

Victorian Claire Burles, who spoke to the committee from hotel quarantine in Sydney, also called for Melbourne to restart quarantining returned travellers.

“People who are from Victoria should be able to quarantine there,” she said.

Ms Burles and her husband Andrew were forced to leave Canada with their one-year-old son after Mr Burles was made redundant in June and unable to find new work.

The young family found themselves struggling to keep a roof over their heads after they gave up their lease because they were meant to fly home.

When their flight was cancelled, the Australian consulate offered them a list of homeless shelters in Vancouver.

She said the Government’s handling of returning travellers had created a lack of trust in the protection of Australian citizens and lacked a “duty of care”.

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