It all started with the arrival of actor Zac Efron. Mark Wahlberg followed, then Matt Damon and dozens of other celebrities who made Australia their home during the pandemic.

More recently, Julia Roberts arrived. He plans to shoot a movie with George Clooney later this year, Ticket to Paradise.

In the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, it seems that half of Hollywood has moved to that country whom they see as a place idílico coronavirus free.

Life is good, as the virus has been largely eliminated: people freely enjoy beaches, bars and nightclubs.

Also many actors have come to work, as the Australian government has attracted large productions, such as the next film by Thor, through tax incentives.

It is because of that the celebrities are seen on the streets, particularly in Sydney: Idris Elba was seen on stage at a concert; Natalie Portman shopping at Bondi; Chris Pratt partying at a hotel; and Zack Efron having lunch at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Chinatown.

The visiting list also includes Awkwafina, Ed Sheeran, Jane Seymour, Melissa McCarthy, Michelle Ye, Paul Mescal, Rita Ora, Ron Howard, Taika Waititi, Tessa Thompson, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Hanks.

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There are also the Australian stars who have returned home: Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Kylie and Danni Minogue, Rose Byrne, Isla Fisher and her husband, Sacha Baron Cohen.

“They call it Aussiewood,” a local entertainment reporter told the BBC.

But not everyone is happy with the presence of the famous.

One year after Australia closed its borders, it still there are at least 40,000 Australians stranded abroad.

Many say they have been prevented from returning home. A group has filed a human rights complaint with the United Nations.

“No other country has prevented the return of its citizens in this way,” says Sabrina Tiasha, who came home from the UK last month.

Why is this happening?

Australia’s border restrictions have deprived many citizens of the right to fly home.

Last year, the government imposed a “travel limit” for international arrivals, with the aim of reducing the risk of coronavirus outbreaks.

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That implies that flights to Australia, in many cases, are reduced to just 40 passengers. The cap has increased ticket costs and prompted airlines to prioritize first-class seats.

For example, flights from the UK to Australia they can cost between US $ 2,300 and US $ 11,400, which forces many to dip into their savings and even their pension funds.

There is also the hotel fee to perform the mandatory quarantine when they arrive: $ 2,300 per person.

It is rare to find an airfare like the ones that existed before the pandemic. And even people who get a ticket, can stay without traveling if the flight was oversold.

“This is what I can tell you conclusively after six months: there is no system,” says Tiasha. “There’s no way you can really figure out what’s going to happen or schedule a flight.”

The government says it has organized more than 100 repatriation flights, including 20 this year.

But with tens of thousands of Australians still unable to return home, anger has increased over lack of support of the government.

They cry out for help

More than a dozen citizens stranded abroad told the BBC they have received little help from Australian authorities.

Margaret and David Sparks, a 70-year-old couple who were on holiday in the UK when the pandemic struck, were trapped for almost a year.

“People are so stressed and fearful that they pay any amount to get home. But as pensioners, we really have to think a lot about the cost,” Sparks told the BBC earlier this year.

They had three flight cancellations before finding a repatriation flight last month.

On Facebook groups, stranded Australians advise each other to keep their bags ready. The lucky ones give details of how they overcame the obstacles to get home.

“Keep your phone on ringing all night to take calls at any time, in case a last minute flight comes up,” wrote one.

Hundreds have asked for help. They want to go home for desperate reasons: to care for sick or dying relatives; because they have lost their job or home; or because the cost of being separated from loved ones has become overwhelming.

Rights debate

Some believe that the government’s policy violates their human rights.

International laws dictate that citizens they have the right to return to their country. It is a principle that is most often invoked in refugee cases.

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A group called Stranded Australians Abroad has presented a petition to the UN Human Rights Committee asking for your intervention.

But experts caution that not much can be done without a similar guarantee in Australian law.

Professor Ben Saul of the University of Sydney says that an extreme case, such as “an Australian who ends up homeless”, could show that limiting travelers is unnecessarily punitive.

Other experts say that ongoing family separations could violate the rights of the kids.

Saul believes Australia could pass a law to make things fairer, such as airlines prioritizing access for vulnerable citizens.

Meanwhile, the government maintains that the price of going home depends on the airlines.

“[Nuestra] A top priority at the moment is to help Australians abroad, “a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told the BBC, adding that had helped more than 39,000 citizens to return since the pandemic began.

“Different treatment for the rich”

However, critics argue that the government has adopted more flexible policies for celebrities.

The government cut the travel limit in half in January, citing the threat of the UK variant. But days later allowed the entry of more than 1,700 tennis players, support staff and otheras persons linkas to the Australian Open.

“They prioritized a tennis tournament over their own citizens,” says Tiasha.

Other controversies have arisen. Quarantine in a hotel is a requirement for everyone, but many stars have received exemptions.

Julia Roberts and Ed Sheeran were quarantined at a luxurious ranch on the outskirts of Sydney. Damon, Kidman and Dannii Minogue also received approval to have private quarantines.

“Celebrities are in their private mansions,” says Andrew Hornery, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s a very different scenario than being crammed into a four-star hotel overlooking a highway.”

British billionaire Lord Sugar flew in first class last July to film a television show. It was an excellent experience, he tweeted, having only traveled by private jet before.

That same week, there were reports of Australians camping out at London Heathrow airport, after being kicked off the flights.

A woman posted a photo of her children sleeping on the floor of the terminal; they had nowhere else to go, the post said that it went viral. Later he got a flight home.

“There is a 100% different treatment for the rich or famous compared to ordinary people,” says Kanisha Batty, an Australian who was granted a visa extension in the UK.

He had joked that deportation might be his quickest way home.

Damien Eisenach, who is stranded in Peru, agrees that it looks like “a two-tier system”.

“There is a lot of support for tennis players and celebrities, and zero support for the people on the other side,” he says.

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