Stranded Aussie pleads: ‘Bring us home’
Brooke Saward has built a career on travelling the world with an Australian passport, and while that was once a blessing, in the age of COVID-19 it has become a curse.
Ms Saward, who has more than 500,000 followers on her travel Instagram @worldofwanderlust, is one of at least 25,000 Australians stranded overseas. Of those, at least 3000 are deemed vulnerable.
Ms Saward is pleading for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to show some empathy and allow thousands of vulnerable and isolated expats to return home.
"He has children. How would he feel if he was in our position, if he was living overseas and suddenly not able to provide for them, and not able to bring them home?" she said.
Strict caps have limited international arrivals to 4000 a week, meaning hundreds of flights still landing in Australia are at less than 10 per cent capacity, with only 30-50 passengers on each plane.
Increasingly, Australians desperate to return have turned to paying for first or business class flights in an effort to secure their spot.
On Wednesday, Deputy Premier Michael McCormack announced the flight caps would be increased to 6000 a week.
While Ms Saward said it was good to see the Australian government take some action, it wasn't enough.
"It's a bit of a cop out," she said.
"2000 extra people is maybe 20 extra passengers on each flight ... but there will still be price gouging, meaning the vulnerable still can't get home."
According to the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), 140 flights arrived in Australia in the first week of September. There were 24,000 spare seats.
Last week, BARA warned member airlines could not be expected to "continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis" and urged the federal government to drastically increase caps.
"A target average of at least 100 passengers per arriving flight, while still difficult financially, is far better than 30 or less," BARA executive director Barry Abrams said.
Ms Saward, who grew up in Launceston, says she has been left in a state of purgatory as her visa expiry date approaches.
She moved to South Africa in November to spend time in her partner's home country while he applied for a partner visa in Australia.
Her visa required her to leave and re-enter the country every three months, something the travel blogger was all too happy to do. That all changed in March.
"I came back to South Africa on March 6 and there was not much coverage to suggest coronavirus was a big problem outside of Wuhan," she said.
"I went on a rhino conservation trip two days later and was out of reception for about 10 days. Only twice did I connect to Wi-Fi to read what was happening in the outside world.
"We got back to Cape Town and went out for dinner on March 20. That was the last time that restaurant opened."
South Africa went into 100 days of hard lockdown on March 23.
When Mr Morrison called for Australian travellers to come home as he shut the borders that month, he told expats that if they were able to do so, that they should stay put.
Although her lease is up in four weeks and she currently has no work, Ms Saward considers herself one of the lucky ones, having heard horror stories of other Australian expats stranded overseas who are pregnant, have young children, or have been left homeless and jobless.
"I always thought I was so lucky to have an Australian passport, I love being an Australian, but to be told you cannot go home, that makes people feel so incredibly isolated and vulnerable," she said.
"I'm from Hobart, the international airport there has capacity, more people can fly into other major cities … There just has to be a willingness."
Since March, Ms Saward has kept a keen eye on repatriation flights, and said there have only been two bound for Australia.
She has until October 31 to return home or risks overstaying her visa, which would jeopardise her career.
"I'll have a one to four year ban on my passport, and a black mark against my name," she said.
"As a travel blogger, I would have to declare that anytime I entered a country like the USA or UK."
The first repatriation flight sold out before Ms Saward knew about it.
Her flight last week was cleared to leave, but never gained approval from Australia to land, leaving hundreds in limbo.
"I think it's a very comfortable position from within the borders of Australia to say, 'well, you had your chance to get home',"
"For expats overseas, it wasn't as easy as just getting on a flight. I had a lease, I had so many obligations … it wasn't as easy as just getting on a plane.
"I had a whole life here I needed to pack up."
Originally published as Stranded Aussie pleads: 'Bring us home'
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I got stuck here in South Africa from the pandemic but who am I to complain? Cape Town, you beautiful thing 😍 I have 7 weeks left here to get out before my visa expires and now that the lockdown has ended, I’ll be spending most of my time outdoors. Can’t wait to share with you all more of my life in South Africa ++ another stories series are coming up shortly! 🍷 edited with my “Safari” presets @shopworldofwanderlust