Australians stranded abroad by coronavirus are outraged at a letter from Scott Morrison admonishing them for not coming home earlier.
More than 19,000 citizens and permanent residents stuck overseas are battling cancelled flights that already cost $6,000 or more due to a cap on international arrivals.
Desperate to return, some wrote to the prime minister personally pleading their circumstances and asking for the cap to be lifted.
Instead they received identical letters offering ‘platitudes’, and criticism for not returning in the early days of the pandemic.
‘These are difficult days for our country. The Covid-19 pandemic is a once in a hundred years event – an international health crisis,’ Mr Morrison began.
‘It is why I asked Australians to return home on March 17, 2020. At the time, DFAT expressly warned of the difficulties, noting that travel was becoming “more complex and difficult”.’
The inaccurate implication that all stranded Australians have no one to blame but themselves provoked outrage on support groups online.
Thousands of Australians live permanently overseas and had no intention of returning until the pandemic cost them their jobs and visas well after March 17.
Others were trapped when their countries abruptly closed roads and shut down airports for months, and are only just able to leave.
Mr Morrison’s letter continued with what many travellers considered to be a condescending explanation of the border closure.
‘In view of recent outbreaks, we have put measures in place to help manage the pressure on quarantine facilities, including caps on international arrivals,’ it read.
‘I recognise these measures are frustrating, but they are essential to continue the success that Australia has achieved so far in minimising domestic spread of the pandemic.’
Mr Morrison wrote that the caps were ‘flexible’ to ‘minimise disruptions’ to returning Australians, but he has shown no willingness to increase them.
‘In the meantime, the advice of DFAT is clear: be patient; find a safe place to stay; follow the advice of local authorities and minimise your risk of exposure to Covid-19,’ he continued.
‘I appreciate the time you have taken to write to me, and wish you the best.’
Stranded Australians called Mr Morrison’s letter ‘heartless’ and ‘callous’ for offering no help and instead trying to shift the blame onto them.
‘Wow! What an ignorant and arrogant response! He says he kept Australia safe but he’s not actually keeping those Australians stuck overseas safe!’ one wrote.
Others noted that packing up and leaving with a few days notice was not possible for Australians who lived overseas for years.
‘Why don’t they get it we had a job, a home and a life on March 17 – why on earth would we have uprooted everything to return homeless and jobless when at the time we could sustain ourselves where we were?’ one wrote.
‘No one knew what was going to happen – this is a “I told you so” and “tough s**t” letter – how very disappointing.’
The DFAT advice Mr Morrison referred to only told Australians to come back if they ‘wish to return’ the government at the time encouraged anyone who was self-sufficient to stay put.
Some travellers said they tried to follow the advice but were either trapped by foreign government lockdowns or had numerous flights cancelled.
‘Translation: We warned you before. We don’t really care about your circumstances. You’re on your own,’ one wrote.
Another wrote: ‘Yes they asked us to return home asap, [but] I have been trying to get home since March when he originally said that.’
Strict arrival limits brought in last month mean the few airlines still flying to Australia cancel many flights because they are not economical.
Travellers report being bumped off up to eight flights in a row or forced to buy business class tickets on planes with just 30 passengers.
One way flights out of London, for reference, in the next two weeks are only affordable if they are two or three-stop marathons bouncing around the globe.
Even those cost more than $5,000 to Sydney, dropping to $2,000 by September, but are mostly on multiple airlines with a risk of being stranded mid-journey.