Labor Senator Penny Wong has demanded the 11,000 Australians stranded overseas due to widespread coronavirus lockdowns be brought home immediately.
In a scathing attack on the government, Senator Wong said “enough is enough” for the thousands of people who have registered for consular support, stuck abroad with no commercial flight options available.
“Today marks one month since the Australian Government changed its travel advice to ‘Do Not Travel’ but it still has no coherent plan to repatriate those who have been stranded overseas,” Senator Wong, the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said.
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“They’ve spent the last month emptying their bank accounts on commercial flights that have been cancelled, while watching citizens of other countries rescued by their governments.”
More than half of those Aussies are stranded in India, Senator Wong said, who called on the government to offer organised assisted flights and “stop relying on private citizens organising one-off charters”.
Travellers are also stuck in South Africa, the Philippines, Thailand and Bangladesh, as well as the Middle East and South America.
“The need for more direct government intervention to get Australians to safety has always been obvious,” Senator Wong said.
She criticised the treatment in comparison to other governments’ assistance for stranded citizens — Germany has arranged 170 dedicated flights to bring home people while the United Kingdom has splashed $150 million on flights.
During the week, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she’s working with overseas authorities and Qantas to organise more flights.
“There are Australians in a number of countries – India is one, the Philippines is another – where we are working very closely with local authorities and with Australians who are supporting a charter process,” Senator Payne told the Nine Network on Thursday.
Australians will foot the bill for flights home but can apply for an emergency loan if they’re struggling financially.
Not everyone who has registered with embassies wants to come home but more than 280,000 Australian citizens have returned in recent weeks.
The Commonwealth provided support to a large number of those stranded.
There is no precise figure on how many people are still looking to return, however, 220 in Lebanon are desperate to come back.
Hundreds of stranded Australians returned home during the week on chartered flights from India and Cambodia while a flight is also ready to be repatriated from Peru.
The Australian Embassy in Cambodia said in a statement 164 Australian citizens, plus 20 permanent residents and family members, boarded a flight from Phnom Penh as regular commercial options “were drying up fast”.
“So we decided to facilitate this one-off non-scheduled flight to a transit country, which then connected to a scheduled flight on the same plane to Sydney,” it said.
“Passengers paid for economy and business seats.”