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South Africa: 15 Million ‘Undocumented Foreigners’ in South Africa? Herman Mashaba Wrong Again

Claim
There are 15 million undocumented foreigners in South Africa
Source: South African politician and businessman Herman Mashaba (November 2020)
Verdict
Explainer: Data from Statistics South Africa and the United Nations put the number of foreign-born migrants in the country at around 4 million.
Mashaba pointed to a newspaper article from November 2019 which claimed 15 million people in South Africa were “unregistered”.
According to a 2018 World Bank dataset, there were 15.3 million people without identification documents in South Africa, but these are not necessarily “undocumented foreigners”.
Statistics South Africa estimates there are 3.9 million foreign-born people living in South Africa in 2020.
Researched by Cayley Clifford
Herman Mashaba, former mayor of South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, caused a social media stir in November 2020 when he tweeted that there were 15 million “undocumented foreigners” living in South Africa.
The country has a population of 59.6 million.
This is not the first time Mashaba has cited startling migration figures. In 2017 he claimed that 80% of Johannesburg’s inner city residents were undocumented migrants. Available data did not support his claim.
Several Africa Check readers asked us to check if Mashaba’s figure of 15 million undocumented migrants was correct. Here’s what the latest data shows.
Unregistered vs undocumented
When pressed for a source, Mashaba shared a link to a news article from the online news website, the Citizen. The article, published in November 2019, was headlined “15 million” people in SA are unregistered, and many are “stateless children”.
The article said that “the World Bank claims that the country has more than 15 million unregistered people”.
A 2018 dataset from the World Bank does provide estimates of the total number of adults and children in 151 economies who do not have “proof of legal identity”.
The bank says there isn’t a universally accepted definition of “proof of identity”. To get around this, it uses a combination of administrative data and other sources such as voter data.
The data shows that there were 15.3 million people without identification documents in South Africa in 2018. The figure refers to both citizens and residents of the country.
But the data set does not provide information on the number of “migrants, refugees and stateless persons” without South African identity documents. These people may have other official forms of identification, such as a passport from their country of origin.
Stats SA: 3.9 million foreign-born people
Migrants are often referred to as “undocumented” because they may not have legal permission to be in the country or may have overstayed their legal right to remain in the country.
It’s difficult to account for every undocumented migrant, but available datasets point to a figure much lower than 15 million.
South Africa’s most recent census is from 2011 and showed that approximately 2.2 million foreign-born people were living in South Africa.
Using the country’s 2020 mid-year population estimates, Stats SA estimates the number of foreign-born people living in South Africa at around 3.9 million, Diego Iturralde, chief director of demography and population statistics at Stats SA, told Africa Check.
“This includes naturalised South Africans, all major categories of migrants with permits and visas, as well as undocumented migrants,” he said.
UN: 4.2 million international migrants
The United Nations population division estimates that there were 4.2 million international migrants living in South Africa in 2019. This, it said, represents 7.2% of the country’s total population.
While estimating the number of undocumented migrants is complex, Iturralde previously said, an influx of undocumented migrants would leave behind a demographic footprint.
“You would see a surge of deaths and of births to female migrants in the relevant age groups and in the regions where migrants are found.”
Facts (and correct numbers) matter
After linking to his source, Mashaba added that “ultimately the exact number matters less than what [the Department of Home Affairs] is doing to address this concern”.
But numbers do matter, particularly when they are being shared by public figures.
“South Africa faces severe challenges of inequality and insecurity,” Loren Landau, professor of migration and development at Oxford University’s Department of International Development, told Africa Check.
“Neither of these is due to immigration and they cannot be effectively addressed without first identifying their sources and realistic solutions.”
Offering up international migrants as the “bogeymen” responsible for South Africa’s shortcomings draws attention away from the very real difficulties they face, he said.
Research shows inaccurate information contributes to negative stereotypes around foreign-born migrants in South Africa and can reinforce often unfounded fears that the country is “overrun” by immigrants.
Conclusion: Number cited refers to people without proof of legal identity
Former mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, recently claimed that there are 15 million “undocumented foreigners” in South Africa. But the number he cited refers to both citizens and residents who do not have “proof of legal identity”.
According to Stats SA, the number of foreign-born people living in South Africa in 2020 is around 3.9 million. This includes both the documented and undocumented. The UN population division put the number at 4.2 million in 2019.
While working out the exact number of undocumented migrants in the country is complex, the latest estimates do not support Mashaba’s widely shared statement. We rate his claim incorrect.
www.samigration.com

Motsoaledi calls Home Affairs, Bosasa deal ’stupid’

Cape Town – Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has described the agreement reached between his department and Bosasa on the use of the Lindela Repatriation Centre as ’’stupid“.
Motsoaledi was on Wednesday asked about claims made by Angelo Agrizzi that the Lindela Repatriation Centre was a cash cow and that the Auditor-General had found that the department paid R20 000 per inmate per month.
“It was a stupid deal between Home Affairs officials for the past number of years with Bosasa whereby the facility can carry 4 000, but it was agreed that when the payments are made, there must be a minimum whereby the Department of Home Affairs could pay 2 500 people,” he said.
He said they have removed that clause in the present bid.
“As to whether it was done as a matter of corruption, it was an agreement and it has been signed. We believe it is a stupid one,” Motsoaledi said.
The minister also said the R100 million allocated to purchase the Lindela Repatriation Centre has not been spent yet.
“What happened is that an amount of R73m is held in a trust at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure because this is the amount pledged to buy the Lindela facility on auction that has taken place sometime early this year before Covid-19,” he said.
Motsoaledi said there was a court case which reversed the sale of facilities of Bosasa on auction and that the facilities could not be sold. He said the department was still using the facility.
“We pay rent to whoever is in charge of it. At the moment it is the liquidator.”
Motsoaledi also said they were finalising a bid process for service providers for food, health and security services regardless of whoever owned the property.
He said he did not know when the bidding process would be finalised, but it started sometime in August.
Asked about building capacity in order to provide services to the facility, Motsoaledi said they were security, which they presently don’t have the capacity to provide.
Regarding moving towards ensuring cost-efficiency instead of having to rent, the minister said it was his wish that the department’s buildings were state-owned.
He said they had attempted to get a government building to replace the Lindela Repatriation Centre but could not find any.
“I have approached the head of infrastructure in the Presidency to look at this issue about us building our own offices with state money and owning them like hospitals, clinics or police stations.
“That process is on,” Motsoaledi said.
www.samigration.com

EU Home Affairs Ministers discuss asylum reform

Brussels / Berlin (dpa) – After the bloody attacks in France, Austria and Germany, EU interior ministers are today discussing a common line in the fight against terrorism.
In addition, Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer and his colleagues want to promote the reform of EU asylum and migration policy. As Germany currently holds the presidency of the EU states, the CSU politician is leading the video discussions with his colleagues.
A series of Islamist attacks have rocked Europe in recent weeks. The interior ministers therefore wish to set out in a joint declaration how the EU states can collaborate more closely in this area. The document, which the German News Agency has in its provisional form, mentions, for example, better cooperation between national authorities, a reform of the Schengen area which is in fact free from any control and stricter controls at external borders.
Among other things, it is said that the travel trafficking of the so-called threats is a major challenge for the security authorities. The authorities need to know who is entering and leaving the Schengen area. External borders must be effectively controlled. They also want to strengthen the security inside. Cooperation with third countries is just as important to be able to better deport dangerous people. German police describe people as “threats” to whom they attribute a politically motivated crime of considerable importance – like a terrorist attack.
In their statement, the ministers also underline the importance of access to data. It is essential that police officers in Europe have access to the information they need anytime and anywhere – always with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ministers also underline the importance of highly controversial data retention.
Seehofer initially scheduled deliberations on Friday to move the difficult asylum reform negotiations forward. However, due to the recent terrorist attacks in Dresden, Vienna, Nice and near Paris, the topic of terror was briefly discussed.
In order to resolve the long-standing blockade of EU migration policy, the European Commission presented a new reform package in September. Among other things, the proposals provide that countries like Greece and Italy, especially with enhanced border protection and with repatriation assistance for refused protection seekers, are relieved. Countries that refuse to accept migrants would be responsible, for example, for returning failed asylum seekers. A compulsory distribution of migrants, which is a red rag for some countries, should only exist in absolute exceptions.
Until the end of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, Seehofer is determined to take the issue forward. At least on sensitive issues, an agreement should be found at the meeting of interior ministers in early December.
www.samigration.com

International travellers can now visit SA – on these conditions

President Ramaphosa on Wednesday confirmed that international travel restrictions will be lifted. Here’s what we know.
We had our “My Fellow South Africans” talk again this evening; President Ramaphosa updated the country about the sale of alcohol, lockdown regulations and international travel.
Everyone in the tourism industry, and most people in general, had been wondering when international travel would resume, especially as we are nearing the festive season.
International travel amid COVID-19
Tourism industry took a blow
It’s a critical time for the tourism industry. We reported earlier this month that low loads in November resulted to flight cancellations. Most airlines are struggling to fill their flights, especially international flights.
This, in turn, results in airlines having to cancel flights or combine flights in order to make flying those routes economically viable. At the time, EgyptAir regional general manager, Hossam Zaky, explained:
“Our load factor is very low in November and does not exceed 18% and 28% for our flights on November 12 and 13. December [is usually] a high season for South Africa. Despite this, our flights during this month are still almost empty”.
International travel resumes
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the economic recovery has to occur across all sectors. He explained that level one regulations will be amended to restore normal trading hours.
He also confirms that we will finally see a lift on the international travel ban. Therefore, it’s now more important than ever for travellers to follow safety protocols to limit the spread of the disease.
Ramaphosa said that international travel will be open to all “countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative COVID-19 certificate”.
Relief for the tourism industry
He added that by “utilising rapid tests and strict monitoring, [the governement] intends to limit the spread of the infection by those who would be travelling to South Africa”.
“We expect that the measures we are going to take will greatly assist businesses; particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. We are focusing relentlessly on the implementation of our plan”.
He assured South Africans that the team will be pursuing a few priorities with the highest impact and “ensuring that they deliver on these”. The news will come as a relief to embattled airlines and hospitality businesses.
Following the president’s address, Tourism Business Council of SA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said those in the industry “are quite excited to start working again”.
He reiterated that the tourism industry contributes “around R120 billion into the South African economy and “it’s important that we give certainty to this market”.
COVID-19 safety protocols
International travel will still be subject to strict health protocols. Travellers must present a negative COVID-19 test from no less than 72 hours before departing their country of origin.
One concern will be depending on the country, test results would have varying waiting times. It’s unclear how travellers who were tested days before receiving their results would be admitted into the country.
The revised travel restrictions do however make provision for mandatory quarantine for certain travellers. This will be at their own cost when entering the country.
While the change to the restrictions on international travel will be welcomed, trends around the world still show that travellers are still very reluctant to travel.
The immediate benefit will be for business travel with the lifting of restrictions allowing businesses to once again connect with their clients and subsidiaries around the globe where necessary.
www.samigration.com

Home Affairs rescinds visa of war crimes fugitive Guus Kouwenhoven, embarrassing a global resources ‘transparency’ initiative

South Africa has finally done the right thing by rescinding the visa of Guus Kouwenhoven, a Dutch citizen convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes committed by Charles Taylor’s forces in Liberia and Guinea. It is now time for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to do likewise.
It was revealed on 12 November that the Department of Home Affairs has cancelled the visa of Guus Kouwenhoven, a Dutch citizen sentenced to 19 years in jail in the Netherlands for aiding and abetting war crimes committed by Charles Taylor’s forces in Liberia and Guinea. Kouwenhoven, a notorious arms dealer and alleged sometime business partner of Taylor’s, has been declared an “undesirable person” by the department.
He was informed of the decision on 5 November. He has 10 days to make representations, after which he will become an illegal foreigner – and subjected to removal procedures, ending his luxurious way of life in Cape Town, where he owns a multimillion-rand Bantry Bay mansion and several expensive cars.
His highly paid legal team will no doubt attempt to ensure he remains in the country. The department must remain resolute and ensure South Africa no longer provides a haven for this odious fugitive from justice. How they granted a visa to a known convicted war criminal fleeing justice in the first place, is unclear and a cause for concern.
Equally baffling was a magistrate’s decision in February this year to stop Kouwenhoven’s extradition to the Netherlands, where he is due to start serving his jail term. The National Prosecuting Authority’s appeal on the extradition matter is due to be heard in early December. The Department of Home Affairs’ decision should make the success of this appeal a foregone conclusion.
It is hoped that the NPA will also seek to freeze Kouwenhoven’s assets in South Africa, sending an unequivocal message that, as a democratic state committed to the international rule of law, South Africa will not harbour those who have been found guilty of complicity in heinous war crimes, or fugitives from legitimate justice. The country’s reputation as a champion of global human rights is at stake.
South African civil society, in the form of the Southern African Litigation Centre which brought these cases and has run a relentless and courageous campaign against Kouwenhoven’s presence in the country, has stepped in where the government had so far failed. It is now up to the State to ensure we are rid of Kouwenhoven once and for all.
Elsewhere, civil society has not been as admirable in its approach to the arms dealer. The Oslo-based Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which describes itself as “the global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources”, has had a representative of a Kouwenhoven logging company on its oversight body in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) since March 2019, despite understandable outrage.
To have the interests of a convicted accessory to war crimes – a fugitive from justice – represented on the stakeholder group of a body that exists to further good governance, raises cacophonous alarm bells.
Before his luxurious sojourn in South Africa, the kleptocracy run by President Denis Sassou Nguesso in the Republic of Congo welcomed Kouwenhoven with open arms in 2003. This was when, in violation of a UN Security Council travel ban, Kouwenhoven fled the ashes of Charles Taylor’s reign of terror in Liberia, from which the “businessman” had made fortunes from logging and arms dealing. Interpol calls the Bantry Bay fugitive a “friend” of Sassou. In 2005, Dutch media reported that his Pointe-Noire villa neighboured the dictator’s.
The Sassou regime awarded him his first, massive logging concession in 2004. At the time, the other shareholder of his firm SIPAM was soon-to-be Public Works Minister, Emile Ouosso. When, in 2016, he gained an even larger concession – bringing the forest under his control to an area the size of some 200,000 football fields – SIPAM had become a wholly Kouwenhoven-owned entity.
The global NGO transparency initiative didn’t bat an eyelid last March when Congo’s Finance Minister appointed the local manager of SIPAM to the “multi-stakeholder group” in charge of overseeing EITI operations in the country.
Negligence in such matters comes naturally to the initiative. Although the non-profit claims to be the global standard of good governance on natural resources, many of the world’s most brutal kleptocracies may well see it as an invaluable image-laundering tool. Of the 22 African countries it’s “assessed”, all have made either “meaningful” or “satisfactory” progress – only one, the Central African Republic, is currently suspended, “due to political instability”.
Such marvels of openness and good governance as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon or Sassou’s Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) – and especially the multinational mafias that plunder them – know they can count on the NGO for lauding baby steps and window dressing. This is perhaps unsurprising given that, in 2019, 34% of the EITI Secretariat’s $6.8-million budget came from oil and mining firms.
The way that EITI has dealt with the Kouwenhoven issue has been as slow and laboured as the South African government’s reaction to his gilded presence in the country.
Alerted on 3 April that Kouwenhoven’s man was a member of its Congolese oversight group, EITI’s initial reaction – for six months – was to do nothing.
To be sure, the executive director promptly outlined for us the relevant grievance procedures, noting that “any member of the [multi-stakeholder group] has the right to table an issue for discussion”. A relief, one imagines, for the group’s civil society members, no doubt eager to “table” the issue of Kouwenhoven while looking down the barrel of an AK-47. A follow-up request about whether the EITI board had brought the matter to the attention of the group was met with silence.
Not only did EITI find that “the Republic of Congo’s performance in implementing EITI requirements [since 2018] has improved markedly” but it specifically noted “improvements” in the procedure for naming members to the multi-stakeholder group. For the EITI, an oversight group with a member linked to one of the most notorious war criminals on Earth, a fugitive from justice, “includes relevant actors with adequate representation of key stakeholders”.
On 24 September, having heard from the authors on this again, EITI suggested a Zoom call “to better understand your concern”. But what’s not to understand? It’s above all to this question that EITI Congo Brazzaville’s national coordinator, Michel Okoko, failed to respond during our online meeting on 5 October. Described recently by La Lettre du Continent as “Sassou’s secret weapon to win over the IMF,” Okoko has spent the past seventeen years as an adviser to the Economy Ministry.
Not only does he claim not to know Kouwenhoven, he swears that before our alert to EITI he had never even heard of him. This is bizarre, given that Kouwenhoven is identified as sole owner of SIPAM in a 2019 document on the Finance Ministry website and that he often appeared on state television and other Congolese media. While meeting with Kouwenhoven for a 2019 media profile, the writer recorded that during the interview “every now and then a [Republic of Congo] minister calls”.
The EITI Secretariat promised to recommend SIPAM’s removal from the multi-stakeholder group – only if the necessary documentation could be found proving a connection with Kouwenhoven. Okoko says he’s learned from SIPAM that the convicted war criminal no longer owns it. However, in giving the regime its hearty thumbs-up last September, EITI took pains to specify that beneficial ownership of “licenses and contracts” was an area in which progress was “only encouraged or recommended and should not be taken into account in assessing compliance”.
South Africa has finally done the right thing. It is now time for the EITI to do likewise. Otherwise it is most likely that once he has exhausted legal challenges to his removal from South Africa, Guus Kouwenhoven will land up once again in the Republic of Congo, rather than in a jail cell in the Netherlands, where he belongs.
www.samigration.com

Surge in Australian Home Affairs corruption referrals a ‘sign of maturity’, gov claims

According to the watchdog that oversees the Department of Home Affairs, the marked increase in reported corruption is a massive boon.
The federal law enforcement watchdog has asserted that an increase in corruption referrals regarding the Department of Home Affairs doesn’t indicate a rise in dishonest conduct, but rather displays a “growing maturity” within the ministry’s “integrity arrangements”.
The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) Commissioner’s annual report 2019-20 outlines that over the 12 month period covered, it received 172 notifications about potential corruption issues, which was a marked increase compared with recent years.
And of these, 167 corruption notifications were related to Home Affairs and its related bodies. One hundred were to do with the department directly, 63 were in regard to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and four related to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
The ACLEI went on to launch investigations into 11 of these matters, with six of them directly involving Home Affairs.
And over the year 2019-20, five prosecutions that arose as a result of ACLEI investigations were finalised. Three of these involved the Australian Border Force (ABF) officers, while the other two involved civilians.
Policing the police
The federal law enforcement watchdog was established via the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 (Cth). The minister responsible for the statutory body is the Australian attorney general, currently Christian Porter.
“Detect, investigate and prevent corruption in prescribed law enforcement agencies” and “assist law enforcement agencies to maintain and improve the integrity of staff members,” is the mandate the ACLEI is charged with.
At present, the ACLEI has jurisdiction over the ACIC, the AFP, including ACT Policing, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Home Affairs, including the ABF, as well as prescribed parts of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The heads of these agencies are required to notify the Integrity Commissioner of any corruption issues. And information regarding corrupt behaviour can also come from the general public, the attorney general, and other government agencies.

Increasing maturity
“Overall, we consider that the increase in notifications represents the growing maturity of the department’s integrity arrangements,” the report authors conclude. “There does not appear to be any substantive change in the areas of Home Affairs in which corruption issues arise.”
The factors the watchdog goes on to list as reasons for the increase are a greater awareness of the need to stamp out such conduct, a recent rise in the number of staff falling under the ACLEI’s reach, as well as some just identified historical issues.

A question of corruption
One of the five prosecutions that came to a close over this year was Operation Valadon. Commencing in June 2017, it concerned the conduct of former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg.
The investigation considered eight allegations that Quaedvlieg’s conduct fell outside of his oath of office and could amount to corruption. The assertions revolved around the former ABF commissioner assisting his girlfriend, Sarah Rogers, in gaining employment with the department.
The former Integrity Commissioner made three findings of corrupt conduct against Quaedvlieg, however, no charges were laid due to insufficient burden of proof.
The former ABF boss has gone on to label the ACLEI’s investigation as “deeply flawed”.
Ms Rogers was found to have given false testimony during the investigation into her partner’s conduct. And in July last year, she pleaded guilty to the offence at the Downing Centre, where she was sentenced to a 7-month intensive corrections order and 100 hours community service.

A toothless watchdog
The Morrison government last week released its draft legislation relating to the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). This anti corruption body will have the power to investigate the Commonwealth public service and it will subsume the ACLEI.
As part of this process, the ACLEI is to cover four new agencies – including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) – from next January, while receiving an extra $9.9 million in funding and 38 additional staff members.
However, critics of the CIC are raising questions as to why the government’s proposed new watchdog will be holding hearings for law enforcement agencies in public, while those involving politicians will be held behind closed doors.
Why “should law enforcement officers, of whom the attorney general is the notional head, be held to a higher and different standard than the attorney general himself”? Sydney barrister Geoffrey Watson has asked.
“Why do politicians get special protection?”
www.samigration.com

Stranded Overseas, Thousands Beg Australia to Let Them Come Home

Limits on the number of Australians who can return have spurred a growing uproar over the country’s hard-line approach to the coronavirus.
Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney. Australia is one of the few places in the world that is barring citizens from leaving their own country and limiting the number of those who can return.
DARWIN, Australia — Alison Richards, a 38-year-old graphic designer, had been living in Britain for five years when she decided to move home to Australia. Then she got sick with Covid-19 and lost her job.
“It was an awful experience,” said Ms. Richards, who spent six weeks without leaving her apartment, except for the night she became so ill she called an ambulance. “I thought, I’ll just pull myself through this and get home.”
She’s still waiting.
Ms. Richards is among tens of thousands of Australians stranded abroad because of government coronavirus restrictions that cap the number of people allowed on flights into the country. In mid-June, Ms. Richards booked a ticket to Sydney, but she has been bumped twice from her flight as a result of the caps.
Australia is one of the few places in the world that is barring citizens from leaving their own country and limiting the number of those who can return. The tough regulations have raised legal concerns about the right to freedom of movement, and have been especially painful for the large numbers of Australians who turn to travel as a balm against the tyranny of distance from the rest of the world.
“We wanted to take our kids out of the Australian bubble,” Daniel Tusia, 40, said of his family’s decision to travel internationally for a year. Mr. Tusia ended up spending $14,000 on business-class tickets to get his wife and their two children, one of whom has special needs, back to Australia after weeks of trying to get home.
“It never entered our mind before this point that Australia would actually physically and legally obstruct you from entering,” he said.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, has framed the country’s hard-line approach as crucial to avoiding the kind of rampant spread of the virus experienced in countries that have travel restrictions that are looser or nonexistent, as in the United States.
“As an island continent, control of our borders has been a means by which we have kept Australians safe,” he wrote in a letter in August sent to those requesting consular assistance to return. He acknowledged that the measures were “frustrating,” but said they were necessary.

Australia has capped the number of people who can arrive at its airports each week.
But as many of those stranded abroad have become more publicly vocal about their plight, some opposition politicians have expressed more empathy. “These are people who have the right to come back to their country, because they are Australians,” Kristina Keneally, the Labor Party’s top official for home affairs, told Parliament in September.
Last week, under growing pressure, Mr. Morrison said the caps on passengers entering the country would be raised to 6,000 per week from 4,000. Those numbers, though, depend on cooperation from the states and their capacity to quarantine arrivals, and travel industry experts said they still fell far short of demand.
They encouraged Mr. Morrison to pursue alternatives like allowing people traveling from countries with low infection rates to self-isolate, instead of mandating quarantine in government-designated facilities. Similar programs have been successful in Hong Kong, Singapore and Qatar.
While the authorities estimate that there are more than 35,000 citizens who want to return home, the airline industry says that based on booking statistics, as well as figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number is most likely closer to 100,000.
In the first week of September, more than 140 international flights with about 30,000 seats arrived in Australia, but only about 4,000 were filled. Often, business- and first-class seats are prioritized, meaning that only some can afford to come home.
Mohammad Khan, who has been stuck in Pakistan with his wife since March, said he was forced to buy business-class tickets after four of his economy tickets were canceled.
The couple could not afford the flights, but needed to return to Australia by December to ensure that Mr. Khan’s wife did not violate her visa requirements. So they sold their car in Australia. “We are in a miserable condition here, running out of money and time,” he said by email.
Emily Costello, 27, who began a job teaching English in South Korea last September, said there are just two flights to Australia before her visa expires, and they are both booked up.
She said she could not afford to return in March, when the pandemic began to escalate and Australia urged its citizens to come home. She has since finished her contract and has been couch surfing with a colleague while petitioning the Australian government for answers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the travel restrictions were important to control the coronavirus.
“I’m not sleeping, I’m vomiting a lot because of the stress, my hands have started shaking,” said Ms. Costello, who suffers from depression and anxiety. “It shouldn’t be a lottery.”
Barry Abrams, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, said that the travel caps had the punitive effect of leaving people out in the cold for decisions made during a period of extreme uncertainty.
“Australians have a high propensity to travel,” he said, adding: “Regardless of whether the person could have heeded the call, they are now in a very difficult situation. Is it really right not to have arrangements in place to bring them home?”
He added that it was not just the number of incoming passengers, but also those leaving the country, that needed to be expanded. Currently, Australians wanting to go abroad have to apply for exemptions, and many have been denied.
“I never in a million years thought I would be helping Australians to leave the country,” said Sonia Campanaro, a Melbourne immigration lawyer.
For those still stuck overseas, repatriation might be up to six months away. Some say they are considering a class-action suit against the federal government. Others have launched petitions and campaigns, including one through Amnesty International that asserts that leaving people stranded overseas is a breach of their human rights.
While it is true that international conventions ensure the right of people to return to their countries, the Australian government is not technically barring citizens from returning home, even if the airline caps are having that effect, law experts said.
Anyone bringing legal action against the government for stranding them would have to prove that the reasons for doing so were unjustified, they added.
For Ms. Richards, the graphic designer, her frustration at not being repatriated, especially when she followed government guidelines to remain in Britain until her illness passed, is building.
“I’m really, really angry,” she said. “All those people who say, ‘Oh, you should have come home sooner,’ I say, ‘Oh, would you have liked me to come home and infected an entire planeload of people?”
While contending with long-term complications of Covid-19, including heart palpitations and brain fog, Ms. Richards has written to numerous politicians pleading for assistance. She is currently booked on a flight out of London on Sunday, but is doubtful that it will go ahead, given the previous cancellations.
“It’s still confirmed, but I keep checking it every hour of every day,” Ms. Richards said. “Hopefully, I’ll be flying.”
www.samigration.com

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