‘We feel abandoned and blamed’
A Sydney couple stranded in Sweden say they feel "abandoned" by the Australian Government after being bumped off three flights in their desperate quest to get home.
Chris Circosta, 30, and his partner Maia, 29, booked a flight to Sydney in May, intending to head home on July 3.
But as cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine began to stack up, a cap was put on the amount of people who could fly into NSW each day - only 350 - and Mr Circosta says it's left them "stuck in limbo".
The couple had been living and working in Germany since early 2019, and had always intended to be home before August, so Mr Circosta could act as best man in his childhood best friend's wedding.
Their rental contract in Germany expired in March, about the same time the COVID-19 pandemic began to badly affect Europe, and borders began to slam shut.
With nowhere to live, they left their possessions with a friend and fled to Sweden, where Maia, a Swedish national, had family. They arrived the day before Germany closed its borders, and eventually managed to have their belongings - about 60 kilos - couriered to them.
Mr Circosta told NCA NewsWire he woke up on July 3, just hours before their flight was due to depart, to an email from Qatar Airways saying NSW were no longer allowing international passengers to arrive, effective immediately.
" I frantically called Qatar and had my dad call them simultaneously from Australia. We both got different answers," he said.
"One said the flight was still confirmed and everything "looks fine on their end". The other said, well if you received the email, then the flight won't be departing.
"We went to Stockholm airport to be told we would not be flying that day. But the flight was not actually cancelled, we were just not allowed on. We were specifically told only business class would be flying that day."
This process has repeated twice more for the young couple. They were re-booked for July 18, and then again for August 10, but Mr Circosta said there is still "no guarantee we will fly to Sydney".
"What we found out is that despite knowing there was a 50 person per flight cap (now 30 per flight), Qatar still booked each flight to capacity, only to then boot the majority of passengers off the flight, sometimes with only hours notice," he said.
"Each time we've been booted off the flight I have contacted the Australian embassy in Sweden, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, each of whom have been kind, but ultimately unhelpful, as neither of them have been able to provide any guarantee on our safe return to Australia."
Mr Circosta and his partner are able to stay in a small town with Maia's relative, but he is unable to work as he is now on an expired tourist visa, so the couple are eating heavily into their savings, while trying to save to pay for hotel quarantine when they are finally able to come home.
"The cost of living in Sweden is extremely expensive," he said. "The cost of travelling to Stockholm each time we expect our flight to depart is extremely expensive.
"And having to take public transport each time for 6 hours at a time, where no social distancing rules are practised, in a country with one of the highest Covid mortality rates in the world, coupled with the stress of the situation … We shouldn't have to put ourselves at risk like that."
The couple were re-booked to fly to Sydney, their third attempt, on August 10, but Mr Circosta was told on Friday his flight had again been pushed to September 7. He will not make his best friend's wedding.
"The whole process been emotionally and mentally exhausting," Mr Circosta said.
"We are really stuck in limbo here. The worst part is just not knowing when we can come home.
"I spend the days leading up to each flight checking and double checking with the airline and DFAT if we'll be able to get on our flight, but we basically get told each time 'The situation is changing day by day. Check back tomorrow', or the worst: 'Everything looks fine in our system' - only to find out hours before that we've been booted off the flight again."
Mr Circosta said he did not blame Qatar for their policies, but found the rhetoric coming from the government insulting.
"To be told by the Australian Government we've 'had enough time' to get home … we've been trying to get home the whole time," he said.
"I don't know of any other country that's blocking their own citizens and chastising them just for trying to get home. I never questioned or thought that my own government wouldn't do everything in their power to look after their own citizens, but here we are feeling abandoned and blamed for a situation that's out of our control."
A spokeswoman for Qatar said the airline is looking into Mr Circosta's travel arrangements, but was assessing each passenger individually to help as many Aussies get home as possible.
"The passenger list is continually assessed and based on a range of criteria, including compassionate and medical requests, connecting flights, booking class, party size etc," she said.
"We continue to work closely with our passengers to find alternative flights if they are unable to travel on their original intended flight."
Originally published as 'We feel abandoned and blamed'