A family of four trapped in Peru has pleaded with the Prime Minister to urgently secure affordable rescue flights for hundreds of travellers caught in the coronavirus lockdown who feel abandoned by Australia.
The family face a $24,000 bill to get their children home under the only current solution: A $5000 one-way flight that the organisers can’t guarantee will take off.
Newcastle mother Mhairi Thompson is trapped in Peru with her husband Jed Thompson and children Caleb and Isla, a plight shared by over 300 Australians.
“Our children are 12 years old and eight years old. They are holding up amazingly well under the circumstances. However, they are scared and desperate to get home,” she told The New Daily.
“No one is looking for a free ride home, just an affordable one, with more support and communication from the Australian government.”
The family have return flights booked but the Peruvian government has closed airports and locked down the country.
“My husband and I are in Cusco with our two children. We are not booked on the charter flight and are desperately hoping our flights booked with LATAM for 3rd April are not cancelled,” she said.
“We travelled to South America prior to any news of the virus breaking. We have been travelling for three months and have been keeping a close eye on the Smartraveller website throughout our travels.
“To book the charter flight home would cost us close to $24,000. As we are going home to a lot of uncertainty, we can’t afford to spend that kind of money.
“The only advice we have received from the embassy (via Twitter) is to book ourselves on to a chartered flight home (at over $5000 per person!).”
Warning that many travellers cannot afford a $5000 one-way ‘rescue’ flight organised by the government and some are unable to even reach the airport, the family has said time was running out.
Australians Trish Jackson and Kevin Dunne had been refused a seat on the rescue flight.
“We have contacted Chimu & requested to be booked on the charter flight but as we are in Mancora, 18 hours drive from Lima, they have said they can’t help us at this time,” Ms Jackson said.
“We need a government-sanctioned vehicle to get us to the air base. We have seen other countries get their people out of the same hostel we are in and make it home. There are three more Australians like us, in Mancora.
“We also aren’t really in a position to pay such a high premium for the charter flights home, but if it is the only option, then we are prepared to do it.”
Chimu Adventures, which is organising the $5000 flights, also warned they are not guaranteed to leave. That prompted a new wave of anxiety among the families, many of whom are confined to hotel rooms and subject to a national curfew.
In a email obtained by The New Daily, Chimu Adventures admitted it was working around the clock to get Australians out but there were “no guarantees”.
“You are receiving this email because you have a tentative seat or seats booked on one of our repatriation flights from Cusco, Lima or Buenos Aires,” it states.
“I’d note that we are still hoping to proceed to the timeframes suggested on Friday last week. We would stress that there are many factors in play at the moment and we can’t give any degree of certainty on the departure date currently.”
Despite reports on Alan Jones 2GB program on Monday, that the Australians could be put on British rescue flights, there are not enough seats for the 300-plus Australians.
Exasperated and frightened Australians have been scathing of the performance on the Australian embassy and the lack of information. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra has now devoted additional resources to their plight.
In an email to trapped Australians on Monday, DFAT said it was working around the clock to get them home.
“Despite the closure of Lima’s civilian airport on Saturday, I want to reassure you that there are still options for aircraft to depart,” it states.
“We are working around the clock on options for return to Australia. Please bear with us as we coordinate with the Peruvian government, Australia and tour companies and airlines.
“For the time being, you should not attempt to travel. There is a process in place with the Peruvian government to allow confirmed passengers on flights to be transported to airports. It is not done individually.”