A refugee couple and their children who were blocked from a connecting flight and ordered back to Melbourne are a step closer to achieving their dream holiday, after Emirates agreed to a full refund over the ordeal.
It comes after The New Daily revealed the plight of Syrians Munzer and Diala Kassis, who were caught up in a bureaucratic bungle that highlighted confusion about the travel rights of Australian permanent residents leaving the country on holidays.
“It’s been hell on Earth,” family friend Renee Mazloum said on Tuesday.
Mr and Mrs Kassis had saved for years to travel with their children to see relatives in Italy.
They had each been granted an identification certificate from the Australian government, a document that resembles a passport.
Mr Kassis was repeatedly told by the Italian consulate that the family would not require visas to enter Italy. They left Melbourne on an Emirates flight with no troubles. But as they went to re-board during a stopover in Dubai, the family was blocked from the plane.
They told TND they were left sitting on the floor of the boarding gate for 14 hours before being ordered back to Melbourne.
Under the Schengen agreement, Australian passport holders can travel visa-free in some European countries, including Italy. But the Kassis family hold identification certificates, not passports, because they are permanent residents – not citizens.
They believe they were given the wrong advice by Italian authorities.
After the story was published, the Kassis family was contacted by Emirates, which has offered to refund them the initial cost of the international flight for the couple and their two children.
The Italian consulate in Melbourne has also agreed to meet the family.
Consular officials would not answer media requests for comment on why they had agreed Mr Kassis and his family would not need visas.
Emirates maintained that passengers required visas before boarding the flight from Dubai.
Mr and Mrs Kassis hope to travel to Italy this week during school holidays, but fear they will not be able to afford the cost of last-minute tickets.
They are calling on Emirates to offer them a better deal to travel.
Mr Kassis said he feels guilty for putting his family through such a traumatic ordeal.
“I tried to make them happy, then I put them in a very bad situation,” he said.
“I’m very tired and I feel very sorry for my kids and my wife.”