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Family of four including a baby, on the beach at Barbados, looking serious.

A quick trip to Barbados to visit a sick relative before COVID-19 reshaped the world has turned into a nightmare for one far north Queensland family who remain stuck on the idyllic Caribbean island.

Key points:

  • Around 46,800 Australians are registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for assistance to return to Australia
  • The Harewood family have been stranded in Barbados for 18 months since the start of the pandemic
  • Junily says she is concerned for her health after the birth and can’t afford hospital visits

Ian Harewood and his wife Junily, a proud Kalkadoon and Olkola woman, decided to take their 5-year-old daughter to visit Ian’s mother in Barbados in March 2020 after receiving news that she was unwell.

Not long after the Cairns-based family arrived, the global pandemic was declared and the world began to shut down.

“Flights were cancelled, and we lost our return flight, which was supposed to be in April,” Mr Harewood said.

Junily’s travel sickness on the flight to Barbados soon turned out to be good news for the family but an added complication for their plans to return home.

They were able to buy tickets on a second flight to Australia, but it was also cancelled leaving them with no option but to stay to see out the pregnancy.

Now, they are among the 46,800 Australians registered for assistance to return home.

Stranded on a tropical Island a nightmare

Barbados is a tiny island country in the Caribbean, and while the Harewoods described it as a beautiful place to be, the high cost of living has sucked their savings dry and was now impacting their health.

Junily’s pregnancy incurred exorbitant costs as she was not a citizen, and the family had to raise funds to pay the bills.

 

Toddler sits on white sandy Barbados beach.Toddler sits on white sandy Barbados beach.

The Harewood’s are grateful to have beautiful beaches at their doorstep, but miss home a lot.(Supplied: Junily Harewood.)

It was a traumatic time for the young mother who had her baby alone, because Ian was not allowed to be in the room due to COVID regulations and her family was out of reach in Australia.

“I had to go to hospital twice because I had pre-eclampsia, so that’s why our hospital bill was quite high,” she said.

Not being a citizen meant Junily has not been unable to get work in the country and she has relied on online work through her art therapy business.

Ian is a citizen and has been able to obtain some work but it has been scarce and unemployment is high in the country.

The Harewoods have a rental property in Cairns, which their family has been helping to pay for, but the bills are stacking up.

“It just becomes one challenge after another,” Junily said.

Mother in face mask holds her new baby in hospital.

Mother in face mask holds her new baby in hospital.
Junily did not know she was pregnant until she arrived in Barbados and the baby is now 14 months.(Supplied: Junily Harewood)

Family seeks assistance

With no direct flights from Barbados to Australia, the family must rely on connecting flights through other countries to try to get home.

“The only two airlines that are flying now out of Barbados is British airways and Virgin Atlantic,” Junily said.

Qantas’s recent announcement to open flights to the UK ahead of schedule could mean more flights available from the UK, if they could get there.

The Harewoods’ son is now 14 months old and they need to find the money for his Australian citizenship.

They also have to pay for costly COVID tests before they can fly to the UK and hope to avoid quarantines or sudden lockdowns at each stop.

Once they arrive in Australia, they may still face border restrictions and quarantine if Queensland maintains the current regulations.

Harewoods on plane

Harewoods on plane
The Harewood family had no idea what lay ahead when they left Cairns for what they thought was a vacation to see family.(Supplied: Junily Harewood.)

Aside from letters of support for citizenship for their son, the Harewoods said all the Australian Consulate has been able to do for them was keep them abreast of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade flights.

They have also reached out to local governments, which had either not responded or said it was out of their authority.

Feeling deflated by the process, the Harewoods were now hoping for community support to help them get home.

Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said that caps on returning flights and state border closures were inhibitive.

“Recently, New South Wales announced that they are going to open up their state to visitors coming from overseas that are double vaccinated and that have had a test before they leave,” Mr Entsch said.

“The federal government has said that the priority has to be for returning Australians.”

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