‘No assistance’ for Australian family trapped overseas
An anxious Sydney couple stranded with their young children in Guatemala say they feel let down by the Federal Government as the intensifying coronavirus crisis leaves them with dwindling hope of getting home.
Julie and Jordan Woolley and their kids Caleb, 8, and Lena 5, have been living for the past year in the city of Xela in Guatemala's western highlands, where the couple works for a non-profit group and volunteers at a school.
Increasingly uncertain about how the developing nation would cope with the pandemic, the couple have been trying to leave, following Federal Government advice Australians abroad immediately return home.
But now Guatemala has shut down its borders and it has become even more difficult to find a flight out - and the young family is among thousands of Aussies stuck overseas and running out of options.
"We're effectively locked in at this stage," Julie Woolley told news.com.au from Xela.
"All borders are completely closed and it's impossible to leave. I understand that there are a number of countries that have enacted the same response but from my perspective it's a little troubling in a country that's not exactly renowned for its health infrastructure or the rule of law.
"We just want to get home. We have two young kids in a developing country with terrible healthcare infrastructure during an unprecedented pandemic. There is no indication on when borders are likely to re-open and flights to become available."
Mrs Woolley said flight prices began to skyrocket even before the Central American nation, which borders Mexico, announced on Tuesday it was shutting its borders for 15 days.
"(Flights were already) incredibly expensive - tens of thousands of dollars for some routes - and beyond us," she said.
As the family continue to search for flights home, they've set up a GoFundMe page to cover the escalating cost of the return trip.
The increasingly desperate family has made several appeals for help to the Australian consulate but found dealing with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was "frustrating in the extreme".
"No, we certainly don't feel like we received any assistance whatsoever," Mrs Woolley said.
"When things looked like they were taking a turn for the worse we contacted the consulate and they advised us that they couldn't give us any advice.
"We wrote to them and spoke to them on several occasions seeking advice while the borders were still open, and on each occasion they refused to offer advice. They only offered us advice to leave once Guatemala had announced the closure of its borders - and it was literally already impossible to leave."
Mrs Woolley said Canada had urged its citizens to get out of Guatemala before the border shutdown.
The family is looking to raise about $8000 to cover their expensive flights to Sydney.
"The best case scenario would be for us to be able to get on the first flight out as soon as borders reopen, but much better would be if the Australian government sent a plane to the region to repatriate us and whatever other Aussies may be here in Guatemala or the region," Mrs Woolley said.
"We're concerned about not only the virus itself, but the risk to our family in these circumstances in a country with much of the infrastructure and many of the safeguards we take for granted back home."
Little Caleb and Lena, meanwhile, are keen to get home to Sydney.
"We are effectively holed up in our house all day and there doesn't seem to be any imminent end in sight - you can imagine that that's difficult for kids of their age," Ms Woolley said.
"They're talking a lot about Australia - meat pies, beaches and family."
In the meantime, it's a difficult and uncertain waiting game for the Sydney family.
"It's hard to be trapped in a developing country with no end in sight," Mrs Woolley said.
"We're anxious because the implications of a pandemic in a country like this are quite different from in a developed country with strong healthcare infrastructure. If the pandemic really hits Guatemala it will be dire.
"As a mum I hate thinking about the implications of this.
"We're frustrated because we feel like the Australian government has let us down."
Originally published as 'No assistance': Sydney family trapped