A Sydney mother who has been stranded in Africa is likely to make a return to Australia, after securing a “tentatively confirmed” flight booking with Qatar airways.
Melissa Inkster, 44, has been stranded in the Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC), a country known as the “rape capital of the world” due to Australia’s harsh COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms Inkster has faced a number of flight cancellations to flee the Congo.
After being laid off the first flight home after the DRC lifted a six-month COVID-19 border closure, Ms Inkster was offered a second chance to fly out at a cost of $15,000. Not able to get the money herself, her friends in Sydney were able to raise funds required for a business class ticket to Sydney.
But the chance to get home was again dashed, after an email error by an agent meant the airline did not get confirmation, meaning she’d have to wait a full week again.
Now it appears the mum-of-two may be on a flight back to Australia – which would depart Kinshasa International Airport on August 31, and arrive in Sydney by September 2.
Ms Inkster has been trying to get out of the Congo since COVID-19 turned a short humanitarian mission into a nightmare six months ago.
The DRC closed its borders on March 24, the day after she arrived there, stranding her in the world’s fourth most dangerous country.
Ms Inkster has been hopeful of returning home to see her young children for the first time in six months for weeks as she waited for the DRC to reopen its borders yesterday.
“Sometimes my son is crying, ‘Mummy, mummy, when will you be coming home?’,” Ms Inkster said.
“I’ve stayed in touch with WhatsApp and Skype, but … I couldn’t say because I didn’t know.
In an exclusive interview with news.com.au, Ms Inkster said that she had already been robbed and attacked in the DRC, and was afraid to go outdoors because of a history of sexual violence against women there.
Because of her caucasian appearance, she fears she may be targeted as Congolese people “might think I have money … the truth is, I’ve run out, I’m flat stick broke”.
Described by friends as a “kind and resourceful” person who had set up a thriving business when her first child was a six-week-old baby, the 44-year-old has exhausted her savings while trapped in Africa.
Following unsuccessful attempts of getting out of the country and returning home, friends of Ms Inkster set up a gofundme.com page to help fund her airfare home. The fundraiser successfully raised more than $16,000.
News.com.au contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, asking if Ms Inkster could be assisted home as a humanitarian case.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that it “stands ready to provide consular assistance to any Australian citizen, should they request it”.