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Stranded and struggling - Queenslanders trapped abroad

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Gold Coast nurse Kate Kitto says she is stuck in a hotel room in Lima with no idea when she might be able to find a very expensive seat on a flight home to Australia.

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She is among those Australian travellers stranded overseas as people scramble to book flights and countries shut their borders due to the ongoing coronavirus threat.

Travellers described chaotic scenes at airports with tourists forced to queue for hours, many missing out on flights or forced to buy plane tickets for thousands of dollars.

It comes after the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) recommended Australians abroad who wish to return home amid the COVID-19 pandemic should do so as soon as possible via commercial flights.

DFAT has warned Australian travellers they may not be able to return home at a later stage, with more countries closing their borders due to the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Kitto and her Brisbane friend Genevieve Pyne arrived in Peru last week and had planned on a two-month trip taking in Bolivia, Brazil and Chile.

Kitto said they were now stuck in a hotel room in the Miraflores district of Lima after Peru closed its borders.

She said they could not secure a flight back to Australia.

“We’ve been in lockdown since midnight on Tuesday — we were given 24 hours to leave [the country] and we couldn’t make it out,” she said.

“As soon as we found out, we were about four hours away in Paracas and we paid a man to take us to the airport as quick as he could.

“We got to the airport — it was chaos — we tried to wait in lines that were hours long.

“Until four o’clock in the morning we were trying to book flights on our phone but everything was booked out.

“There were a few flights that were about $8000 to get home, which were all booking out, so we went and stayed in a hotel for a few hours to get some sleep.”

‘It’s been a bit worrying’

Kitto said they went back to the airport but were told by authorities to get a hotel and stay in lockdown for a 14-day quarantine period.

She said there was also a 30-day minimum travel ban in Peru with no planes, buses or taxis operating.

“There’s an Australian Embassy in Lima and we were told that [had] shut down on March 15 so we haven’t been able to receive any support from there,” she said.

“We have tried to contact the Embassy in Australia and we’ve only been given generic advice.

“It’s been a bit worrying because we’re uncertain of when we can get out.

“We haven’t much information from the Department of Foreign Affairs, we haven’t received any information from the Government apart from the Smart Traveller advice.”

‘No help’ from Australian embassy

Brisbane man Matt Gharakhanian was stuck in Morocco at Marrakech Menara Airport earlier this week after his flight to London was cancelled and he struggled to book another.

The 33-year-old had since managed to secure one of the last easyJet flights to London.

“While waiting in a line, an airport staff member came up to me and asked if I wanted to go to Berlin, promising I can get to London that way,” he said.

“I got on and after I landed, the easyJet staff said that was their last flight out from Marrakech to Europe.

“It was sad because I saw a couple of spare seats, and the air hostess said their earlier flights were near empty, but nobody was being put on them.”

Gharakhanian said the process had left him exhausted and stressed and there was no help from the Australian embassy in Morocco.

“Australians definitely will find it hard — the embassy tells them to book flights but even if you do, the flights will most likely just get cancelled,” he said.

“They’re told different things by different airport staff. I was told that some were denied boarding and others given preference.

“It was chaos when I left — some people were shoving others in the hopes of getting a ticket.

“The embassy did nothing further and didn’t communicate anything further, so we were just left not knowing what to do.”

Gharakhanian said he was booked to fly to Brisbane via Dubai, but was worried it could be cancelled.

“I definitely feel anxious — I’m relieved but at the same time I know it’s not over,” he said.

“I’m just worried I could be trapped in Dubai on the way home but I know I need to do whatever it takes to get back.

“I am constantly checking the flight status and half expecting and fearing I’ll see the word ‘cancelled’.

“I’m also just happy I finally got out of Morocco, and I hope everyone else can get out too.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.

– ABC / Rachel Riga

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