Couple's lack of help 'almost saw them banned from Europe'
A North Queensland couple has taken aim at the Australian government claiming it did 'very little' to help them while they were stranded in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic facing possible bans on the continent.
Townsville couple Lockie Garutti and Ash Harnwell arrived in Kitzbuhel, Austria last December for the trip of a lifetime.
Working in the local ski fields, the pair was due to leave for Norway a week after the pandemic hit in mid March. They remain in Europe, having made the decision to stay - for now.
As the restrictions began to ease in Austria a few months later, the couple managed to secure an appointment with the Norwegian embassy in The Netherlands to try to gain working holiday visas to make their stay in the EU and Schengen Area legal again.
"After arriving and going to our appointment we were expecting an answer within weeks," Mr Garutti said.
"After waiting around in The Netherlands and inquiring further, we were then told it could take up to three months for approval."
With their visas expired, the pair headed to Andorra, a country not in the EU, for some reprieve. That's when customs officials noted their out of date visas and told them to apply for an extension.
"This was so frustrating as we had tried everything to gain this with no luck even though the Schengen zone had come out with a statement stating this would be done," Mr Garutti said.
"They told us to call our Australian embassy in France and get a visa sorted.
"We drove back into France and contacted the embassy where they told us you will have no problems exiting the EU."
The couple chose to go to Croatia and were planning to stay for 90 days before they'd then be able to re-enter the EU and start a free period of 90 days again.
En route to Croatia the Norwegian embassy contacted them and said their temporary residence permits had been granted.
Their nightmare continued despite the approval, as the Austrian authorities weren't sure 'what to do with us' as they tried to gain work.
Mr Garutti blasted the Australian government for not stepping in during the unnerving time.
"No one has helped us in anyway, shape or form including the Australian embassies in Austria and France, where they wouldn't return or answer calls and emails. And if they did it would be very brief and could take up to five days to get a reply," he said.
"I don't think frustrated is the right word, I think disappointed comes to mind.
"Australia has always been a country of mateship, everyone lending a hand when difficulties arise.
"The Australian government is doing very little to help stranded Aussies and its embarrassing to see."
Mr Garutti acknowledged it was the couple's decision to ride out the pandemic on the other side of the world instead of coming home. But he said they still deserved better.
"It wasn't as simple to just pack up and return home. We had a car to sell, our belongings to organise and then try get to an airport.
"At that point in time, airports were COVID hot spots.
"When we had visa issues, the scariest part was, even if we wanted to or had no other options we could not return home due to the lack of flights.
"Going home could cost us $30,000 going off flight costs we have been told about. That is a lot of money."
Acting Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge was contacted for comment.
Originally published as Couple claims lack of help nearly saw them banned from Europe