Hundreds of expats stranded in London due to Australia’s arrival caps have branded moves by the local embassy to help as “too little, too late”.
The Australian high commission’s latest initiative included dispatching teams to Heathrow to personally help those who find their flights cancelled or delayed at the last minute.
Rules limiting the number of Australians who can return home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.
We’ve deployed an @AusHouseLondon support team to Heathrow Airport.
They‘re helping to facilitate Australians returning home, and deliver support in the event of disruption.
It’s tough to head home right now: but we’re determined to help and support however we can. pic.twitter.com/FbU8mSRf4f
— George Brandis (@AusHCUK) September 7, 2020
Critics have argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
George Brandis, high commissioner for Australia to the UK, said on Twitter, “It’s tough to head home right now: but we’re determined to help and support however we can.”
Twitter user Sally Grove responded by arguing, “How about instead of having to send traumatised people who arrive for flights to homeless shelters, you work with the airlines so the flights they’ve had booked for months actually leave and honour their bookings.”
Other advice recently released by the high commission on Facebook tells those struggling to simply “ring up your airline” and be “ready to move”, which has led to a furious response from many.
“So basically this is just a media PR exercise to show that our government actually does care about its citizens so much that they’ll put embassy and HC staff at airports to provide assistance to those who need it, without actually doing anything meaningful, like lifting the caps,” said Robin Lee.
“And maybe stop Aussies stranded at airports talking to the media. It must look great to those back home watching it on the news. Kind, caring, compassionate. The true Aussie spirit, helping your mates out when they’re in trouble.”
Emily Lillian said, “We keep being told you are ‘working on it’ but nothing is changing. Telling us to call the airlines and be ready to move isn’t us being helped, it’s us helping ourselves as we all have been until now.”
Jack Jones continued, “How do you expect people with leases, jobs, small babies, etc to move on short notice? Have you ever lived overseas? Do you appreciate the complexities of travelling home? Who is in charge?”
Finally, Annemaree Lloyd said, “What does be ready to leave at short notice mean? To avoid becoming stranded and homeless people need some clear guarantees about flights so they can give notice on leases and jobs – or does this advice ‘be prepared to leave at short notice’ mean that the HC is advising or advocating that for the thousands of us who need to get home, just walk out of contacts and commitments at short notice?”
Last week, Australian Aviation exclusively revealed how the industry body representing international airlines warned the government its members would have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.
In a significant hardening of its position, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said its members “cannot be expected” to “continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis”.
“A target average of at least 100 passengers per arriving flight, while still difficult financially, is far better than 30 or less,” added BARA executive director Barry Abrams.
The organisation’s third statement in short succession came days after it argued the government should allow flexibility on quarantine for those who arrive from areas with fewer COVID-19 cases. It had previously said it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system wasn’t relaxed.
BARA also revealed that, during the first week of September, some 87 per cent of 30,000 seats on flights into Australia remained empty. It’s pushing for the cap to increase to a target average of 100 passengers a flight.
It has also pushed against flights landing at smaller airports.