A former Deniliquin resident who has been stuck in India for more than a year is desperate to return home to her 80-year-old father who is in palliative care.
Emily McBurnie, a wellness coach who was raised in Deniliquin and attended school in Walla, is one of many Australians stranded overseas feeling helpless in the wake of revelations that the cap on international arrivals into Australia is about to be halved.
All she wants to do is come home to the Riverina, but from from July 14, the number of Australians allowed back in to the country will drop from 6070 to 3035 per week, national cabinet has agreed.
The move will impact tens of thousands of Australians who have been stuck overseas since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and could also force international airlines to suspend services to Australia if they cannot break even.
Ms McBurnie is also separated from her two teenage daughters, who are in Canada with their father.
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When the pandemic first hit she tried to get back to Australia with her daughters, but it proved impossible, with numerous connecting flights and the final flight being cancelled.
"Scomo [Scott Morrison] said to all these people who had homes, had jobs to stay where you are, we'll get the vulnerable first and then come back for you, but they never came back," Ms McBurnie said.
Her 80-year-old father is sick and in palliative care, but she doesn't see herself being able to come home until next year at the earliest.
"The hotel quarantine system has always failed in Australia and I don't understand why they continue to persist with this system when it's not equal," Ms McBurnie said.
"You get your people home first, and then you move into letting films shoot."
She said the entire process is a "money game", and that when news broke of the arrival cap being halved, the words that came to her mind were "racism" and "illegal."
"I understand why they need to get the country vaccinated, I live in New Delhi and have lived through one of the worst healthcare crises," said Ms McBurnie, who is currently recovering from the Delta variant of the virus herself.
"There is a human side to every story, and we can't just assume that it's as easy as jumping on a plane.
"Now that the caps have been reduced by 50 per cent, it's virtually impossible."
Ms McBurnie's current plan is to get her daughters home to Australia for Christmas this year so they can see their grandfather. Her long-term goal is to resettle in Australia with her partner.
She said that the inability to return home, coupled with some feelings of apathy to her situation from people in Australia, has started to change her opinion of her home country.
"I grew up in Deni, in a town in the Riverina, and we looked after each other," she said.
"I never in a million years would have thought that the Australian passport would be the worst one to have right now. It's just not the Australia that I grew up with and loved."
Gil McLachlan opened the Hello World travel agency in Wagga more than 30 years ago and said that over the past few months he and his colleagues have worked with "countless" people hoping to get back to Australia.
"The people that we're dealing with, the most common feeling is desperation," he said.
"It stretches beyond that as far as freedom of movement is concerned.
"We as an industry have supported the closed borders because it was logical and successful. Now though that the vaccine is starting to rollout and we're able to monitor what's happening in other countries, we can get a snapshot as to what it will look like in Australia."
Mr McLachlan said the decisions made regarding international borders have been political.
"The idea that Australian citizens can be stranded overseas for a lengthy amount of time and be unable to enter their own country is a huge concern," he said.
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