007 | The plight of stranded Australians

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

Australians abroad are stranded: 23,000 have registered their desire to come home urgently, but they can't. Ostensibly to reduce the spread of covid-19 and the burden on the country's quarantine system, the federal government has instituted flight caps that reduce international arrivals to a trickle. Only 4,000 people may enter the country every week, less than two hours' worth of inbound international traffic in the "before world." Getting one of those golden tickets is an expensive and harrowing lottery for Australians left abroad by circumstances beyond their control. Australia is now a fortress, and it’s not leaving a side door open for its own.

Four stranded Australians speak about their fight to get home, the backlash from fellow Aussies and what it is doing to the fabric of the nation.

With Tonya Stevens, Sara Webber, Trevor Bowdidge and Polyn Helwend

Music by Dyalla.


Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

Sara Webber: [00:00:00] just let us come home. We are as Australian as you. we cried with you when the country burned. We donated our money to you all when Australia needed it. We are you. We are your sisters, your brothers, your mothers, your friends, your cousins... We have the right to come home. We have the coat of arms on our passport. Stop locking us out.

[00:00:24] Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:25] Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline. Welcome to season two.

[00:00:36] when I lived in Australia a few years ago, there was a commercial playing that always got me. It was for Qantas, the national airline. Set to a melancholy tune, it showed Australians around the world, making their way home: a backpacker in the Andes, a young woman in London, a miner working in a desert... They finished in tears in the arms of their loved ones in the arrival hall. I challenge you not to cry too.

[00:01:01]The ad spoke the language of a continent nation, where air links are as vital as roads and where the "tyranny of distance" means a trip abroad can last months. At any point in time, an estimated 1 million Australians, 5% of the population, live outside the country. Another 7.5 million, nearly one in three people in the country, are foreign-born and thus likely to have family overseas.

[00:01:26] But now Qantas's fleet is grounded and Australians abroad are stranded. 23,000 have registered their desire to come home urgently, but they can't. The federal government has instituted flight caps that reduce international arrivals to a trickle. Only 4,000 people may enter the country every week, less than two hours' worth of inbound international traffic in the Before World. Getting one of those golden tickets is a lottery. An expensive and harrowing lottery.

[00:01:56]Airlines are pulling out or raising prices, bumping economy passengers in favor of higher fares in business or first class. Families are faced with bills in the tens of thousands of dollars, just to get home, to which they'll add a few thousand more to pay for their own quarantine

[00:02:13] Leaving the country is just as hard, requiring a government authorization, which is reluctantly granted. State borders are closing too, splintering the country into so many islands of their own.

[00:02:26] Australia is a fortress. And unlike other countries, it is not leaving a side door open for its own.

[00:02:33] This week, I spoke with Australians desperate to make their way home: a professional woman in Germany, a grandmother in Spain, a bereaved son in London, a family in Northern England. No hugs in the arrival hall for them yet.


[00:02:45] hello?

[00:02:58] Tonya Stevens: [00:02:58] Is it recording?

[00:02:59] Isabelle Roughol: [00:02:59] It is.

[00:03:00] Tonya Stevens lives in Frankfurt, Germany. She spoke to me from a quarantine facility in Melbourne where she rushed after her father suffered a stroke.

[00:03:08] Tonya Stevens: [00:03:08] I mean, I'm just glad that you're taking up this issue. It's a, it's a really serious issue that is affecting so many Australians, both outside the country, and I know you've lived in Australia. What we're seeing is also hard border closures within Australia. And I know that, you know, your podcast is all about borders and, and freedom and you know, it's an Australia that I don't think you'd recognize right now.

[00:03:34] Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:34] yeah, I was thinking about international borders , but it's really striking how this year, even internal borders have been uh, closing and in Australia more than anywhere else.

[00:03:48] Tonya Stevens: [00:03:48] Yeah. they're going to stay closed at least until Christmas, it would seem. And, uh, Western Australia actually playing hardball and the state premiers are all getting a big jump in the polls with it. Um,

[00:04:00]Isabelle Roughol: [00:04:00] A quick glossary for a non-Aussie audience. Some words you're going to hear. Premiers are the top executives in each state, like governors in the US. The Federation refers to the process by which six self-governing British colonies decided to unite into the federal Commonwealth of Australia. That's actually fairly recent, 1901.

[00:04:20]Also, we often speak in Australian dollars. Think about half in pounds or euros, and about 75% for US dollars. I think that's it. Back to Tonya.

[00:04:31] Tonya Stevens: [00:04:31] So it's, it's it's interesting times.

[00:04:34]Isabelle Roughol: [00:04:34] Why do you think that is that it's, um, helping premiers with the voters, because you would think that um, people wouldn't take so kindly to fellow Australians being put in hardship.

[00:04:47] Tonya Stevens: [00:04:47] I think it's fair to say that even since Federation, Australians have been very parochial towards their states, the lines that state premiers are running is that "we are protecting you. Our numbers are the lowest." There's a bit of a competition, particularly between Western Australia uh, and certainly Queensland and Tasmania that their COVID numbers have been very well managed. They're very low and that they're going to protect their citizens if you like citizens of Queensland, citizens of Western Australia, citizens of Tasmania, it's a whole new concept. We haven't seen border closures like this in Australia since the Spanish flu.

[00:05:29]Isabelle Roughol: [00:05:29] Do you think that that could, um, you know, going further, actually undermine the Federation and the unity of Australia?

[00:05:37] Tonya Stevens: [00:05:37] I think it's going to take a long time post-pandemic to get the feeling of a unified Australia. It's definitely, definitely destroying the fabric of, of this country.

[00:05:51]Of course, we have to manage this pandemic. There is no question about it, and I think with the exception of Victoria, Australia has managed it well. But there has to be some common sense and there has to be some compassion because what we are seeing are families separated by an internal border, and that is something that might be very very hard to unwind and a lot of damage is being done. A lot of families missing goodbyes to their dying relatives...

[00:06:18] um, I myself got stuck. Um, and, uh, it's a particularly harrowing experience. Um, I was denied permission to travel to Victoria, to see my father on his deathbed by a rather officious and faceless bureaucrat by the name of Glenn who works in the Department of Health and Human Services. And I was in quarantine in Adelaide having flown in from Frankfurt. It's very, very hard to get this rejection letter, even though the hospital was prepared to accept that I'd had two negative Corona tests and that I should be there to say goodbye.

[00:06:51] And I have to say, it's thanks to the South Australian government, or South Australia Health, that could see that, you know, I was running out of time. And so they basically pleaded with Victoria to say: "look, you have to her in. We'll make the travel arrangements from this end, you'll be prepared to meet her." And so by the time all of that bureaucracy and paperwork was done, it was actually too late. So I boarded a plane to Victoria the day after my father's death -- with police escort, mind you. Police escorted me on the plane in Adelaide, meeting me off the flight in Victoria and taking me into a very, very strictly run quarantine facility. But I never ever thought that borders would stop me saying goodbye to my father.

[00:07:36]Isabelle Roughol: [00:07:36] So you're talking to me from a, from a hotel in Melbourne. Where, where are you right now?

[00:07:42] Tonya Stevens: [00:07:42] Yes I'm talking to you from the Park Royal Hotel. That's not as flashy as it sounds. Believe me. This is part of the problem. A lot of people think that, us expats are being flown in and being put up in five-star hotels. I am in a very sparse room.

[00:07:58]I'm in a facility that's being run by Corrections Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services. So what I actually have in my corridor are prison wardens. And it's very strict and very tough, I have to say. And given it's a time when I'd like to be with my family, it's hard. Now, I accept that there's a need for quarantine, but there was a way to do it humanely and there's a way to do it well.

[00:08:23] This particular quarantine hotel like many around the country doesn't have opening windows. And a lot of people being quarantined don't have access to fresh air. And that is probably one of the biggest complaints. And that is probably the issue that various state governments have to fix. Um, lack of fresh air. Some hotels are sending appaling food that's unnutritious. And some people are complaining they're not getting proper access to healthcare. Now not every hotel is like that. There are some Australians that hit the jackpot in their nice five-star hotels and getting good food and enjoying Netflix. And that's not everybody's experience, but I think it's that image that Australians have in their heads.

[00:09:07] "Oh, well, all these people are coming back in from overseas and they're getting put up in five star hotels for two weeks with, with good food. And the government's looking after them too well." And there is a bit of a backlash towards expats that want to come home. And that is one disincentive to our government to lift the caps and let their 20,000 stranded Australians... We know that there's 20,000 that need to get home desperately and probably a further 80,000 on top of that, that would like to come home. But there's about 20,000 in desperate circumstances.

[00:09:40] And that's anything from a circumstance like mine with, with a father who had a very serious stroke and you've got to get home, so to get home to a dying relative, to those that have lost their jobs. And for Australians that have lost their jobs in a country where the visa is tied to the job. There are Australians at risk of being thrown out of the country, but actually can't leave. There's Australians that have run out of money. There's Australians that need to come home and get healthcare. So this image that perhaps a lot of mainstream media put out that we've all just been backpacking and having big parties and "oh, we want to come home now," that's not the case.

[00:10:15]Most of us at the moment, trying to get home, have been living and working and making a life overseas. So it's very difficult when we're reading all kinds of comments in news reports saying, "Oh, you should have come home earlier." It wasn't possible. Or there wasn't the need earlier. But I don't know of any comparable democracy, that's making it so hard for citizens to come home. These passenger caps, at the major cities and their airports have reduced us to a mere trickle. And it means that airlines are giving preference to business class passengers because their argument is, "we can't run a viable long haul flight on only economy passengers with a restriction of 30 or 40 or 50 on board."

[00:10:58]This policy of having passenger caps at airports is hurting many, many, many Australians, but the government isn't acting fast enough because they know that there's an element of society that like "welll serves them right. Why should they come home? Well, they're lucky if we take them back." And so there's two aspects to that. So it means that there isn't this incentive to fix their, at times human rights issues within some of the quarantine facilities, and they're also saying, "well, you're endangering us by, by coming home." Whereas I think you'll find most Australians like me that want to come home are very happy to have a covid test before boarding the flight. I certainly did.

(Patreon appeal)

[00:12:29] There seems to be a sense in the backlash that we're hearing that going abroad, living abroad is an indulgence and that it's maybe abandoning the country. And so now you want it back, but you left so you're on your own. Am I getting this right?

[00:12:48] Tonya Stevens: [00:12:48] Yes, that's right, but it extends a little bit further. There's been an element of Australian society called the tall poppy syndrome: "oh you're too good for Australia now cause you're living in New York or London or Rio or wherever." And. And exactly, as you said, "you have abandoned us. We're not good enough for you here, are we? Look at you with all your fancy clothes." But of course that's not the case.

[00:13:15] A lot of Australians go overseas and work in pubs and live in backpacker hostels as they try to, to actually look at the opportunity to build a life. Some of us go overseas because we feel we can do some good there. Some of us like to see ourselves as, as global citizens and we feel that we can advocate well for Australia overseas. Um, you know, so a lot of Australians are overseas doing a lot of good work and doing good for our country. And I don't think that that's recognized in the greater part of society here in Australia. People think we are being indulgent in going overseas.

[00:13:52] The ones I'm particularly concerned about are the ones that have lost their visa rights to remain in the country, their host country with their job loss, particularly countries that are perhaps not democracies, um, and, uh, probably not open to reasonable negotiation. And that's, that's a concern. And I do think that the vulnerable Australians, the federal government does have an obligation to send repatriation flights and bring them home.

[00:14:15] a lot of Australians have run out of savings. They're going to the embassy saying "I've got no money. What can I do?" And they're getting all kinds of advice like crowdfunding, "borrow from your parents," "go and pick fruit." all options that aren't always realistic.

[00:14:30] We've got all these various Facebook pages where we try and support each other and give advice. And the biggest issue seems to be getting bumped off flights. Some people who have been bumped off flights home eight, nine, 10 times. And airlines are now saying they can't take bookings beyond November because there's such a backlog of people to bring home.

[00:14:49] So getting to Australia at this point in time is incredibly difficult. It's something that none of us could ever have imagined. The only thing that can fix it at the moment is if the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and his cabinet agreeing to lift the passenger cap at any given time.

[00:15:07]Isabelle Roughol: [00:15:07] so that's what you're asking of the, of the Australian government now.

[00:15:11] Tonya Stevens: [00:15:11] Absolutely. It's not viable to have 50 passengers arriving on one long haul flight and that's it for the day. It's just not viable. The backlog just keeps getting bigger and bigger and more and more people are losing their job as Corona decimates various societies and various countries, decimates the economy. So there's going to be more and more job losses.

[00:15:36]there's two major solutions. One is that Scott Morrison lifts the caps and says to airlines, yes, you can now start carrying in a hundred, 150, 200 passengers per flight. And obviously as a global pandemic, we have to be careful: have a negative test before boarding and a little bit of distancing on the flight. but allowing that many people to come in per aircraft is certainly one option.

[00:16:00] And repatriation flights.

[00:16:02]it's unprecedented times and it's a global emergency, but I am going to call on Scott Morrison, like many Australians: help Australians get back home.

[00:16:11] Isabelle Roughol: [00:16:12] there's two other parts to these travel restrictions. Outgoing flights or leaving the country is also extremely limited. And then you have the internal borders. So it's kind of a three-pronged, uh, set of limitations.

[00:16:28]Tonya Stevens: [00:16:28] There's a lot of distressed people because they can't get to sick or dying parents overseas, or take up a new job overseas. And at some point there's got to be some common sense. It should be a human right to leave a country and also to reenter your country. there's a lot of husbands and wives separated at the moment. There's a lot of parents and children separated at the moment.

[00:16:50] Now that I'm sort of in the country and in quarantine, I'm only starting to realise the extent of how many people have been denied an exemption to leave the country. So at the moment, our borders and our border control is probably the strictest of anywhere in the world.

[00:17:06] Isabelle Roughol: [00:17:06] Democracy or not.

[00:17:08] Tonya Stevens: [00:17:08] I'm very careful... I'm very careful with comparisons. I think there's been an erosion of democracy. Um, I'm hoping that it's temporary, but I will say this there are some regimes that, of course you cannot compare with. However, there is a museum in Berlin that's very profound and the stories are profound because it's about people that tried to apply to the East German government to say, "I've got a dying relative in the West, let me cross the border." And they were denied. And these stories have always made me cry, made me quite emotional when I've taken friends to this particular museum dedicated there, but suddenly that's my story.

[00:17:51] I've been denied the right to cross the border to see my dying father now, of course, I'm not comparing Australia with the former DDR, that would be irresponsible of me. Australia is still a democracy. We cannot compare it with such a regime, but having said that it is still something I have to live with for the rest of my life. And I never thought that that would ever be my situation or my circumstance.

[00:18:12] I had an email from somebody from my home state of Victoria saying, "no, you cannot come into Victoria at this stage." And it's a very officious letter. "You are to stay in Adelaide and you are not to try and cross Victoria at this time."

[00:18:26] When I did get to Victoria... This is also quite confronting. I was given a notice of detention and I had to sign this notice of detention. This notice of detention says that I won't be released until 23:59 on the 10th of September. And I did look at that and think , this is an erosion of democracy. I'm not a criminal. I'm a citizen that is returned to see my father. I'm a citizen that loves this country.

[00:18:51] I'm not opposed to quarantine. I think it's got to be managed well, and I think there's gotta be some humanity and compassion. That hasn't been my experience at the moment.

[00:19:04]I think for many people, it's a distressing process. Most people will survive it, come out, breathe fresh air and say, ok, that's over. But there will be a small group of people that don't quite come out the same. it's something that's going to stay with me for a long time. And there are a lot of people in my situation.

[00:19:22] Isabelle Roughol: [00:19:22] Okay, well, um, we'll hear a few more of those stories on the podcast. I've talked to several people and each of them, an individual heartbreaking story. Thank you so much for, for sharing yours. I really appreciate it and I hope it will move some people to compassion and to action.

[00:19:39] Tonya Stevens: [00:19:39] I hope so too. And thank you so much for taking an interest in this really important issue. We've certainly got a hard road ahead, but I believe that we can make a difference.


[00:19:49] Isabelle Roughol: [00:19:55] As I mentioned, I spoke to several more stranded Australians in the past week. It was impossible not to share their stories. What follows are short edits in their own words. If you want to dig in, you'll find fuller conversations on the Patreon site.[00:20:07]

[00:20:07] Sara Webber: [00:20:13] Hi, I'm Sarah Webber. I'm from Perth in Western Australia. My husband and I have been living in the UK now two years and we have two six-year-old little boys, who are neurodiverse. And so it makes getting home not that easy.

[00:20:30]We haven't seen my dad in about 18 months actually and dad's now 92. And I had been wanting to come back and we were about to fly home when Covid decided it was coming into play. And I knew in my gut that this was going to go heavy and go hard . I wanted to come home, I wanted to be with my dad. I have a disabled adult son in Australia who now can't stay with his carers much longer. I have to look after him and that's why we wanted to come back. We were just packing it all in and coming home.

[00:21:04]And we realized that some of the middle points of transit for us had been closed. Because we have to stop along the way with the boys. We can't just keep traveling long-haul flights because they have special needs.

[00:21:16]They have both got add of varying intensity and one of them is on the autism spectrum as well. For them, while they can fly, doing anything more than nine hours, it becomes really hard because we can't keep them sitting down. The nine flights that Quantas ran out of London, their stop point was Qatar for like I think the longest one was three hours and we we couldn't do it. we had to weigh out the benefits for our children's mental health and physical health and ours. And also for other people on the plane. I didn't want to be the next family on YouTube or Facebook because my kids were having massive meltdowns at 40,000 feet in the air, which would have happened if we were on a 14 hour plus flight.

[00:21:59]you got 300 people on a plane. And at that point in time the viral loading for COVID was through the roof. And if I got COVID because I've got my own co-morbidities I was at exceptionally high risk of it turning bad. and I've got two little ones and I couldn't trust taking the virus home to my son who is sick in Australia or to my dad who is very elderly. And they weren't quarantining then.

[00:22:27] I think what gets to me is that when Australia was burning we cried with everybody else around the world. We donated millions as expatriates back home to Australia Heck some of us even sewed. I don't sew. I sewed. I was sewing pouches for animals and helping send them back home. But as soon as we need help we're shut out, we're told no.

[00:22:51] The comments, reading the comments on news broadcasts and stuff on social media, it does your head in. People are cruel. It's even past being cruel, it's disgusting.

[00:23:02]Things like, "OH too bad so sad" or "you knew you had to come back, you had more than enough time." "Suck it up." "You shouldn't go on holiday anyway." "If you live overseas you should just stay there." "We don't need you back here sucking up the system." And I think the final thing that really got me actually yesterday was being told that people who want to return to Australia should just go to Manus Island because the government's got the facilities there. "It was good enough for the refugees, It's good enough for you." That was really disgusting because anybody with half a brain knows that that place was not an immigration center.

[00:23:43] Yeah, that that was it for me. I've decided that social media and I may need to take a break because it's just cruel. It's cruel.

[00:23:53]People seem to think that we've got millions of dollars and that we swan around everywhere. I wish then I'd be just like a few certain people that have managed to get inside the country in Australia regardless of the flight caps and hole up in a lovely you know acreage somewhere and quarantine with my own staff and that... Please.

[00:24:13] I'm not asking for much. I just want to come home. I want to hug my dad before he forgets what I look like and who I am. Because it's already begun. I just want to see my son because he's not well and while his condition isn't terminal obviously, it's long term and he needs me to help care for him. He's conscious four hours a day. It's my job to be there for him And I can't even get him out. I can't even get an exemption to get him out.

[00:24:49] We are effectively stateless. I mean Australia will allow you to give up your citizenship but not if it renders you stateless. Well the government has pretty much done that. And now while my story is nowhere near as dire as thousands and thousands of people around the world that have been left a rock by the Australian government, my story is similar to many

[00:25:12] And it's just getting harder and harder each day because you keep winding yourself up about wanting to go home and you never switch off. You keep thinking of well what angle can I take that won't put us in financial difficulty?

[00:25:28] I understand that you're scared. I understand that you're frustrated yourselves. I know that you want to keep your borders closed. But we're Australians too. We want to come home. I don't want you to pay for anything, I'm happy to pay for my own tickets but just let us come home. We are as Australian as you. Like I said we cried with you when the country burned. We donated our money to you all when Australia needed it. We pay our taxes. We are you. We are your sisters, your brothers, your mothers, your friends, your cousins... We have the right to come home. We have the coat of arms on our passport. Stop locking us out. We need to come home.

[00:26:14] Or at least then petition the government to let us go. Make us stateless. Declare us stateless so we can at least apply to a country that gives a damn. Because if you can't cut the umbilical cord, we deserve to be home. If not let us go. That's all I want us to do.



[00:26:33] Trev Bowdidge: [00:26:34] My name's Trevor Bowdidge. I'm a British citizen born in London brought up in London and moved out to Australia around about 22 years ago.

[00:26:45] About a year or so ago my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had a call in June towards the end of June, I was working in Sydney at the time as per normal, and um had a call that he'd been admitted to hospital and wasn't expected to last very long.

[00:27:00]Australia had put a complete ban on all international travel. If you want to leave Australia you have to specifically apply for it through the department of foreign affairs.

[00:27:12] The first application that we put through was actually rejected by the Australian government after a day or so because they said that we didn't have sufficient evidence to show that my cause was worthy enough. So I had to resort to getting my sister who was pretty much standing up on my father's death bed to get her to urgently take some photographs of um my father's medical records and doctor's letters, so that we could rush that in with the application on the second time to actually try and get clearance to leave the country. It was only then once we'd actually put that second application through that within a couple of days they actually got back to us and said that we were okay to travel. And even so, at Sydney airport when I left, it was very very exhaustive checks actually getting through security with the paperwork involved, before they'd actually let you anywhere near the checking counter

[00:28:09] as it turned out by the time that that had granted and by the time we booked the flight it was already too late and he'd already passed away. But um I came back for the funeral. I knew it would be hard traveling in COVID situation. I knew it would be hard traveling overseas and I knew it would be risky getting back to Australia afterwards, but I didn't really see that there was any other choice. Um

[00:28:36]the first bump I received an email from them saying that there had been a flight change. It was upsetting but at the same time we could almost reason why because in the previous week I think it was, um Morrison had announced that they'd be limiting in the amount of people that could travel into Sydney.

[00:28:57] I can see why they might have done it so we left it at that and I got used to the new um departure date. But I didn't for one moment think that um it would be delayed again. And it was only after that point that things really did start to snowball.

[00:29:12]the airlines have been blaming the Australian government, the Australian government is blaming the airlines, and people not myself that are stuck in the middle are uh kind of blaming both. Um

[00:29:22]we started seeing the reports coming out of what's been referred to as price gouging where people's economy seats were being canceled at the expense of stupid amounts of money for business class fares. So last week and the week before I think fairs um to Sydney, if you can actually get them, were upwards of around about 6,000 pounds I think it was. So that's around about $12,000 for a single flight into Sydney. Um and some people were willing to pay those fares but for every person that was willing to pay those fares, it also meant that an economy cars passenger would also get bumped off of their flight for the airline to be able to do that.

[00:30:02]once the uh August the 15th booking was then canceled again, um the earliest they could fly me on an economy seat was September the 25th,. Which was roundabout six weeks later. I was absolutely floored by that news. I'd already hung on another two weeks, my family were desperate to see me, I need to get back to my job, my work, there's so many things. I didn't know how I was going to tell my wife that it was going to be another six weeks. I didn't know how I was going to cope mentally with it being another six weeks.

[00:30:31]unfortunately it does turn into a class and a money thing. If you have the money to pay you could have got home.

[00:30:37] I can't get back to work and that really pains me. I can only assume that my annual leave just keeps on getting eaten up and eaten up until there's no more left. That's all I can offer is my annual leave and then after my annual leave I suppose it be into my long service leave... but yeah for the moment they've been very good about it and they're still paying me but they can't go on forever because that's not fair to them either.

[00:31:05] It's a very very strange feeling to be putting in your life on hold on the other side of the world. I'd do anything to just be sitting in my house with my family with my kids going to work feeding the dog... you never realize how precious everyday things are until you don't have them around you. everyone's lives are built up of the people and the events that happen around them on a day to day basis. And when all that is taken away, it just leaves a massive void in your life. It is very hard mentally to cope with every day,. It really is And I just hope people can can start seeing that from our point of view and to try and help out to try and get us back where we belong.

[00:31:52]Polyn Bungalay-Helwend: [00:31:52] My name's Polyn. We relocated here to Spain two years ago because my then 10 year old son had a dream to play football, which is soccer in Australia, in Spain.

[00:32:05] My mum came in March because our son, they were in the quarterfinals so we thought that for his grandmother who's always supported him with his soccer for her to come here to Spain and to watch him play the quarterfinals.

[00:32:26]my mom arrived with some travel companions because she can't have all on her own especially for long distances. so she arrived from the 6th of March um from Australia via Bali.

[00:32:38] So back in early March -- clear transparency here -- we were as blasé as everybody else. "It's just another flu" but we sort of started to realize that things were being different within the first few days of her being here.

[00:32:52]the Spanish government called a state of alarm. We all scrambled, everybody went home waiting to see what was going to happen. our only option was for my mum to travel by herself from here to Madrid by train, catch a flight from Madrid to London, and hopefully get that flight from London to Perth, which At the age of 78 and with mobility issues this wasn't a practical option for us.

[00:33:21] Spain went out of lockdown on the 21st of June. we waited until the commercial flights started we needed to find someone to accompany mum Back to Australia and to explain to her that when she reached a sway and she wasn't going to go straight home. In her mind she was leaving Spain and going straight back home to her house not realising that she would have to double quarantine.

[00:33:51]she would have had to quarantine in the first state that she arrived in and with the state borders in Australia closed, it would mean that going into the Northern territory you would have to quarantine again. Because home for mum is in Darwin. She's already done quarantine here in Spain for almost 15 weeks, she would then have to go back to Australia and quarantine again for a further 28 days.

[00:34:25] So we booked our tickets in early June for the 4th of August. We received the email probably 10 days beforehand To say that um she'd been bumped up the 4th of August you know and our options were um to either cancel the flight um straight away or basically you know reschedule it to another time or in the words of the customer service officer you can upgrade to business class but we still can't guarantee you a seat.

[00:34:56]So we thought we could chance it ; we'll wait til the 19th of August. Um Now with the 19th of August flight we received no emails. Um The only way my husband found out about it was he read a post on Facebook. Rang up Qatar And again the same thing you know However now you can only buy premium business . So it would have been 4,800 pounds, about 10,000 Australian dollars.

[00:35:24] Her travel is due on 21st of September out of London to Sydney. The dilemma we have at the moment is that as of the 19th of September my mum's Schengen visa will have expired and that means that once her and I leave Valencia, she can't return back here home.

[00:35:48] At her age she shouldn't be kept out because she can't understand she's being kept out of her own country. Mum's been in Australia since 1974. Even though she's very proficient in English I think because of what's happened her capacity to communicate has been quite limited and especially her capacity communicate in English. So she's resorting back to Indonesian quite a lot which is her mother tongue.

[00:36:16]from the time she came here she was slightly she was happy she was keen and eager to now she's lost a lot of weight probably in the last month or so, since the first time she was bumped. I think the second time, that's when it emotionally and mentally got to her. Um

[00:36:37] We have a very big extended family back in Darwin. My mum married my dad in 1974 and he was part of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community in Darwin. So mum enjoys a big part of being in that community. They have catch-ups for coffees. And you when her friends message her and say “Hey we were at coffee day and we miss you. When are you coming home?”… She has a little fishing group. So she has a pretty active life back there within her own community, and being not a part of it I think makes it even worse for her.

[00:37:19] What I really want to say to the Australian government is that there are a lot of vulnerable people out there now. We are not all travellers, we're not holiday makers, we're all not expats with huge deep pockets.

[00:37:33] Some of us like my mom are just simple people who have been caught up in a catastrophe, a world catastrophe. And they need to come home first. Prioritize the people, bring those that are vulnerable, bring those people that need to be kept safe. That’s the only message I have.

[00:37:53] Isabelle Roughol: [00:38:01] The stories go on and on: a daughter hoping to return to Queensland to help her mum through chemotherapy, a family too far away from their struggling small business in Victoria, expats just praying nothing happens at home…

[00:38:14] There are several ways to situation could end. Some are considering a class action lawsuit. It could become a diplomatic incident as Canberra leaves other countries to support its vulnerable citizens on expired visas. Or the Australian people could apply pressure on the federal and state governments and remove to flight caps.

[00:38:32] I want to thank Tonya Stevens, Sarah Webber and her family, Polyn and Tina Helwend, and Trevor Bowdidge for sharing their story.

[00:38:41] A special note to the memory of two great dads, Jim Stevens and George Bowdidge. Special thanks to Annette Young and many other Aussies.

[00:38:49] Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. If you liked today's episode, please do subscribe. You'll find us everywhere you listen to podcasts and on the gorgeous new website at borderlinepod.com. Don't forget to rate and review on Apple podcasts, it really helps others discover us. There's an Instagram, @borderlinepod, and you'll see me on LinkedIn a lot. I'm Isabelle Roughol. And there's a Patreon now. Do go and support the pod, it means a lot to me and to my landlord. I think that's all. I'll talk to you next week.


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Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.