Tickets to fly but no way home

Some of the stranded Chilean travellers in Melbourne.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A group of desperate Chilean travellers are stranded in Sydney and Melbourne, including Endeavour Hills, with airfares but no flights home.

Alfredo Dattwyler, who had travelled to Australia for an English-language course, says most of the 195 compatriots have tickets to fly home on Qantas or the Latin-American-based LATAM Airlines.

The rest of the group have money for fares but can’t secure a ticket, he says.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, international airlines have cancelled many flights and stood down staff. LATAM Airlines has recently filed for bankruptcy in the US.

Qantas website advises customers with cancelled flights to “wait to hear from us before changing your booking.”

“We’ll be contacting anyone whose flight has been impacted as soon as possible.

“You won’t be charged any change or cancellation fees.”

Meanwhile, Mr Dattwyler and his compatriots have been waiting weeks for a solution. They have kept connected across Australia via social media in recent weeks.

“Living day by day in the hope of receiving some news becomes increasingly bleak.

“LATAM is not willing to assume the cost of the trip without passengers from Chile to Australia.

“We have seen how neighboring countries have rescued their compatriots in Australia, and what about us? Our government left us in complete abandonment.”

In the meantime, many are unemployed due to the coronavirus shutdowns or because they don’t have work rights.

With dwindling funds, some are living in parks, friends’ garages or taken in by churches.

Their student visas, work visas, tourist visas and health insurance are also fast expiring.

Some are suffering medical emergencies, all are anxious to join their loved ones in Chile – which is of course also in Covid lockdown. At present, about 50 people a day are dying of Covid-19 in Chile – with total deaths closing on 1000.

“Many more with anxiety problems, panic crisis and stress, all due to the concern of the situation of not having a confirmed flight date to return to their country,” Mr Dattwyler said.

Natalia Arancibia Barahona arrived in Melbourne with her husband for a 12-month working holiday late last year. Without work, they are being helped by generous Chilean ex-patriots.

Ms Barahona is working as a housekeeper in exchange for shelter.

“With the money needed to live here, it’s very hard for us. It’s very stressful.

“We have our tickets but we’re waiting for a flight. We want to go home.”