Editorial: We must get stranded Aussies home

It's hard to imagine the stress of being stranded overseas during a pandemic. Pictured is Mandurah girl, Kiara Fitze, stuck in Bolivia. Picture: Supplied.

It's hard to imagine the stress of being stranded overseas during a pandemic. Pictured is Mandurah girl, Kiara Fitze, stuck in Bolivia. Picture: Supplied.

On the surface, Mandurah feels relatively untouched, these days, by the coronavirus pandemic, but one doesn't have to look far to witness untold stress, pain and havoc that is still being wrought across the country.

Previously successful businesses are closing, people are losing their jobs and families and young people are living in a constant state of uncertainty as the government grapples with how best to lead the country out of the current crisis.

But being stranded overseas must involve a very particular kind of stress and heartache that few of us can even begin to imagine.

At present, around 24,000 Australians are trying to get home, while the Australian government is only allowing 4000 to return each week, to lessen the strain on the mandatory two-week hotel quarantine period.

The number of those trying to return is steadily increasing, and around 3500 of these are considered vulnerable.

Capping arrivals is a tough measure to deal with tough circumstances, but the government is being particularly rigid about border control.

It's a tricky balancing act, trying to keep the country safe, while helping thousands stuck overseas.

But many of these people are suffering, away from jobs and families, unable to earn money, and living in a constant state of uncertainty as flight costs soar, or are cancelled repeatedly.

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Those who are able to get flights report having their bookings cancelled at the last minute, particularly those with economy tickets.

With numbers so limited, airlines are prioritising first and business class passengers, and the cost of getting home is climbing above $10,000 a person.

And their reasons from being far from home at such an inopportune time are as varied as life itself, from sudden losses to deaths in the family.

As the government concentrates on issues on Australian soil, many of those overseas have said they feel forgotten or abandoned - just a number on a growing list of people who are desperately missing their families and communities, but will be dealt with later.

In the meantime, these people are running out of money and facing the real risk of having visas expire or be cancelled with no way home.

It's not immediately clear on the ground why the problem has been allowed to become so seemingly intractable.

If the main area of concern is the strain on hotel quarantine, the government could organise remote accommodation or army bases for returning travellers to hole up in for 14 days.

Chartered flights could be made available, or loans for those unable to afford the business-class fares on offer.

Although we are nowhere near clear of this pandemic, it will not last forever. Australia, and the rest of the world, will eventually emerge from the crisis and find a way forward.

But many of the stories coming from these Australians overseas are characterised by a sense of hopelessness, and for good reason.

One woman stuck in Peru said she worried she would never get home.

"I feel depressed, this is the lowest I have ever felt in my life. No matter how much it costs there is no way for me to get back," she said.

"What if I get sick here? What if I die?"

It's imperative that the government gives those trapped overseas some hope for the future. In a time of such upheaval, it is the least that can be done.