The Federal Government has offered new loans to Australians in financial distress who are stranded overseas as airlines press the Coalition to relax the cap on international arrivals.
- Calls are growing to raise the number of people allowed to enter into Australia from overseas
- Australians overseas will be eligible to apply for one-off loans of $2,000-$5,000 to assist with living expenses
- Foreign Minister Marise Payne maintains that strict quarantine measures are required
Huge numbers of Australians are unable to come home because of the scarcity of flights, rapidly rising ticket prices, the cost of quarantine in Australia and the cap on international arrivals imposed by the Federal Government.
Only 4,000 people are allowed into the country every week, although that cap will be reviewed by National Cabinet later this week.
Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told a parliamentary hearing this morning that 23,000 Australians have now registered with the Government to indicate they want to come home.
Two weeks ago, that figure was only 18,000.
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More than 3,000 of those people are classified as “vulnerable” because they’re facing health woes or financial troubles.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia estimates 100,000 Australians want to come home.(Max Pixel)
Government says assistance is ‘a last resort’
Australians who are stuck overseas can already access emergency loans, but the Foreign Minister Marise Payne has now unveiled a new Hardship Program for “vulnerable Australian citizens” who can meet a “strict” eligibility test.
Those who are eligible will be able to apply for a one-off repayable loan to help with living expenses. Individuals will be able to borrow up to $2,000 while families will be able to apply for loans worth up to $5,000.
Australians stranded overseas
Pieter den Heten, stranded in Amsterdam for six months, created removethecap.com a website designed to visually convey the difficulties and delays Australians are encountering in their attempts to return home.
They’ll also be able to apply for a one-off loan of up to $2,000 to help cover the cost of an economy class flight home.
The Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the Senate the assistance was available “as a last resort”.
“We do understand that many Australians have found themselves in difficult circumstances resulting from the pandemic and travel restrictions globally,” she said.
“The program we are announcing today will alleviate some of this hardship.”
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Many Australians stuck overseas have been lobbying the Federal Government to lift restrictions on those who want to return and say they have been neglected and ignored by Australia.
Some of Australia’s diplomatic representatives are also increasingly anxious about the emotional and financial toll on Australians stuck overseas.
The Federal Government says strict limits are required to prevent a compromised quarantine system.(AP)
Some 100,000 Australians could be stuck overseas
Airlines have been pressing the Federal Government to lift the cap on international arrivals and relax mandatory quarantine arrangements for Australians returning home.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia said the caps had “created a large backlog of Australians seeking to return home” which they estimated was actually around 100,000 people.
“The caps are also damaging the commercial viability of the remaining modest network of international flights to and from Australia,” the Board said in a statement.
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But the Foreign Minister told the Senate that strict quarantine measures were necessary to protect Australia from COVID-19.
“The situation in Victoria has illustrated how dangerous a compromised quarantine system can be,” she told the Senate.
“We acknowledge that domestic caps are making it harder for people to return, but we do ask Australians to understand that there is a balance that has to be struck in these circumstances.”
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