“Outrageous” profiteering by airlines organising evacuation flights is forcing vulnerable Australians to sacrifice all their savings or remain stranded overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Queenslander Tobias Ten Wolde, 35, is one of those Australians faced with an impossible choice.
He and girlfriend Karissa had been travelling for almost one year before their trip derailed in Pokhara, Nepal. The country was put into lockdown on Tuesday, with land borders closed and flights suspended.
The Australian government has helped arrange two evacuation flights – almost 600 seats – from Kathmandu on Monday and likely Wednesday.
But with tickets costing up to $A3700, Mr Ten Wolde and his girlfriend will not be on board.
“Normally, the fares back to Australia from Kathmandu range between $400 and $500 so it’s 10 times the price they’re asking us to pay which is totally outrageous,” Mr Ten Wolde told AAP on Saturday.
“We are gutted. We have that money but then we will struggle back home with not a cent to spare. This is not a valid option for us.”
He says embassy officials have been trying their best to help and placed the blame on the Australian government for not doing more.
“Don’t forget we’re Australians as well, and we are having a tough time. We just want to be on home soil and feel safe.”
Australia’s embassy in Nepal wrote on Facebook explaining that the exorbitant ticket prices were due to the fact the planes will arrive empty, and will return empty from Sydney to Qatar. The post has since been altered to remove this part.
“In the event there are future flights, if there are future flights, they are only likely to be more expensive,” the post on Saturday, which was attributed to the Australian ambassador, said.
Mr Ten Wolde said he and his girlfriend will try to wait out the pandemic, isolating themselves in Pokhara.
“We have to find a cheaper apartment where we can self-sustain for six months which we don’t really want to do, because if s*** hits the fan … we’re screwed.”
Drabin Shrestha had been visiting family back home in Lalitpur, Nepal with his wife and three-year-old twin daughters when the lockdowns began.
The family is stranded and desperate to return to NSW, but Mr Shrestha told AAP they can’t afford to pay for tickets on the evacuation flights home.
“We are only able to pay for two adults tickets and have already maxed out our credit cards. We have asked our friends for help and have received $2000 but it’s not enough.”
Mr Shrestha said the family had booked return flights with two other companies but both had been cancelled during the coronavirus outbreaks.
He is concerned about his family’s health if they are forced to remain in Nepal.
“All the private hospitals are ill-equipped. They have already announced that due to the lack of essential medical protective gear, they are not admitting any more coronavirus patients.”
The family have reached out to the embassy for assistance but have yet to hear back. Even a loan from the government would make them happy.
“We are scared that the flights will leave us behind, and I don’t know how to help our kids if they fall ill.”
Almost 600 Australian citizens and permanent residents have registered with the embassy as still being in Nepal.