CANBERRA, AAP – More than 36,000 Australians remain stranded overseas with around 4860 considered to be vulnerable as coronavirus travel restrictions continue.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials revealed the latest figures at a parliamentary hearing in Canberra on Thursday.
India and the UK have the most Australians registered to return home, followed by the US, the Philippines and Thailand.
In September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to get as many people as possible on the list home by Christmas.
“Since that commitment was made, there are more people who are vulnerable who are stranded,” Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne defended the numbers, saying the government had facilitated more than 100 commercial repatriation flights since the start of the pandemic.
Between Mr Morrison’s September announcement and Christmas, 24,000 registered Australians returned home with more than 5000 classified as vulnerable.
Senator Wong urged DFAT or the minister to provide a target date for citizens and permanent residents to be returned.
Senior official Lynette Wood said it was hard to give an indication with new people constantly joining the list.
“The cup keeps refilling,” she told the hearing.
“It’s not as if it’s a finite number and the door has closed. More and more people keep registering.”
Ms Wood believes the northern hemisphere winter triggered a spike with a new coronavirus wave sweeping large parts of the world.