DFAT establishes hardship fund for Aussies trapped overseas

Shot of two young women wearing masks while waiting together in an airport

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has established a hardship program to provide emergency assistance loans to Australians trapped overseas.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the program, which adds to the department’s existing ‘Traveller Emergency Loans’ program, would be established to support Australians who are struggling financially and cannot get home.

According to Smartraveller, the loans come in the form of one-off payments toward living costs and provide up to $2,000 for an individual, $3,000 for a family of two, $4,000 for a family of three, and $5,000 for a family of four.

Special consideration will also be given for families larger than four. As long as one of the parents is an Australian citizen, the whole family will be considered for assistance.

However, applicants for the hardship program will have to meet strict eligibility criteria to access a living costs loan (which you can check out here), and only the “most vulnerable Australian citizens” still overseas will be provided financial assistance.

All loans must also be repaid upon return to Australia within six months, according to Smartraveller.

The news comes as today’s National Cabinet meeting is set to discuss whether to relax the current cap on international arrivals, which has resulted in thousands more Australians needing to get home than just two weeks ago, according to The Age/The Sydney Morning Herald.

While critical to the integrity of Australia’s quarantine system and the safety of the whole Australian community, Senator Payne said the caps have restricted the availability of flights home for Australians overseas.

“The government, including through our embassies and high commissions around the world, continues to work with airlines and other governments to help Australians return on commercial flights,” Senator Payne said.

“Consular officials are also assisting Australians overseas impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to The Age/The Sydney Morning Herald, DFAT estimates there are around 23,000 Australians eager to return home, up from a reported 18,800 two weeks ago.

Many of those stranded – thought to be at least 7,500 people – are stuck in India, while significant numbers are also stranded in the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam, SBS Hindi reported.

The cap on international arrivals of about 4,000 returned travellers per week has created a major backlog, the Fairfax news outlets reported, with airlines prioritising business and first-class passengers to remain profitable and planes carrying as few as four economy passengers.

Featured image source: iStock/PeopleImages

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