Australian family stranded in Canada has been waiting since March to return home

TORONTO -- An Australian family, who was supposed to return home in March, is still stranded in Canada due to Australia's strict entry restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian family stranded in Canada has been waiting since March to return home

TORONTO -- An Australian family, who was supposed to return home in March, is still stranded in Canada due to Australia's strict entry restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

David and Kate Jeffries, as well as their 20-month-old son Mitchell, arrived in Portage la Prairie, Man. in February to help care for David’s mother who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They planned to return to Australia at the end of March, but nine months later, the family remains stuck in Canada.

David, who is a permanent resident of Australia, said in an interview with CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that the family had return flights to Australia booked for March 20. He explained that the Australian government advised on March 17 that citizens should return home as soon as possible.

"[That] was fine for us because we had returned tickets booked. But three days later… the border between Canada and the U.S. closed, flights started getting cancelled, the routes that we were relying on to get home got suspended, and our flights got cancelled," David said.

He says the family has been bumped off every flight they’ve tried to get on since then.

According to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there are at least 36,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents that are still unable to return to the country.

To help limit the spread of COVID-19, Australia has capped the number of arrivals coming into the country each week. David says this has resulted in a backlog of cancelled flights, with little more than 30 people allowed on each aircraft into Australia at a time.

Kate, who is an Australian citizen, says she will lose her job if she cannot return home by February 2021. She told CTV's Your Morning that she and her son Mitchell are in Canada on expired visas. Kate explained that she never heard back from the Canadian government about their visa application and is working to get an extension in the meantime.

Unlike other countries, including Canada, that had major repatriation efforts in the days and weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, Kate said Australia's prime minister left the responsibility of getting Australians home to the country's individual states.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference in November that he is committed to getting stranded Australians home by Christmas with the state’s premiers having agreed to increase their hotel quarantine capacity. He added that international arrival caps will continue to be lifted in stages, but did not provide a timeline.

"The government is engaging closely with state and territory authorities to increase quarantine capacity in major airports. It’s also looking at options to open up more airports to receive more Australians back from overseas," according to a travel advisory on the Australian government's website.

Kate said this isn't enough to help the thousands of Australians still abroad.

"I think we understood initially the lockdown, especially with all the unknowns about the virus, but nine months later we're still stuck here," Kate said in an interview on Tuesday.

"Our government has refused to apply any of the learning worldwide or any of their recommendations to come up with a plan to get us home unfortunately," she added.

David explained that putting the responsibility of repatriating Australians on individual states would be similar to if Manitoba or Alberta were in charge of getting their residents home from abroad.

"States, provinces they work primarily internally, and as such there was no federal oversight in returning stranded Australians as there were to get Canadians home for example," he said.

With no federal oversite on the process, David said foreign embassies have "very little tools available to them" in helping Australians return home.

"Our embassies are telling other fellows stranded overseas to go to homeless shelters… or go start a GoFundMe to try and sponsor their efforts to get home," David said.

While Kate acknowledged that Australia's strict travel restrictions have likely helped the country manage its second wave of infections, she says more needs to be done to help those stranded abroad.

“Our government is actively pursuing plans to bring in skilled labour and international students, entire cricket teams and things of that nature before Australians,” she explained.

The family is planning to return to Australia on Dec. 18, but Kate says it is unclear if their flight will be cancelled like others prior.

"We're hoping that flight goes ahead. We really want to get back to our home, to my job, to medical coverage, to our friends and family. We have every right to be in Australia and we'd love to go home." Kate said.

Source: ctvnews.ca