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‘Held against our will’: Dutch citizens struggle to leave Australia

An Australian Border Force spokesman said the Department of Home Affairs did not comment on individual cases.

Due to high volumes, he said exemption requests were prioritised based on the intended date of travel and any compelling or compassionate circumstances for travel and where all the supporting evidence was provided.

Justin Schoenmaker and Robin Baars have finally been granted permission to leave Australia after an arduous bureaucratic process.

Justin Schoenmaker and Robin Baars have finally been granted permission to leave Australia after an arduous bureaucratic process.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

A number of Dutch passport holders have contacted The Sun-Herald to express frustration with the process involved in leaving Australia.

A Dutch Embassy spokeswoman said there were no restrictions on Dutch nationals returning to the Netherlands during the pandemic. The Dutch government last month lifted the travel ban for some travellers, including permanent, long-term residents of Australia.

“We are aware of one case where a Dutch citizen was given an exemption at the very last minute,” she said.

Robin Baars and his partner, Justin Schoenmaker, decided to move back to the Netherlands after living in Australia for two years but faced months of uncertainty before finally obtaining permission from the federal government to leave the country.

Mr Baars, 28, is a Dutch citizen and Australian permanent resident, and Mr Schoenmaker, 39, is a Dutch and Australian citizen.

Mr Baars said he did not understand why it was difficult to leave the country: “The Netherlands is welcoming back its citizens, so we don’t understand why Australia won’t just let us go and get rid of us so they won’t have to pay for us.”

The pandemic delayed the couple’s original departure date in May, but in the meantime they have resigned from their jobs and given notice to the tenants in their Amsterdam apartment.

The couple initially believed they did not need an exemption to travel overseas because of their Dutch citizenship.

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“After calling Immigration we found out that we do have to apply for the exemption, because our Australian status overrules the Dutch one,” Mr Baars said.

He said a bureaucrat suggested the couple “could just wing it without exemption” but at their own risk: “Immigration was very unfriendly and unhelpful.”

“Part of the reason why we wanted to leave was because we were getting married in September,” he said. “We can’t afford to stay in Australia, as we don’t have jobs [and] therefore can’t pay for both rent here and mortgage in Amsterdam,” he said.

Mr Baars said travel exemption requests were not being processed promptly.

“Moving house is already quite stressful, moving country even more, but not knowing whether you are or when you are allowed to leave the country is just crazy,” he said.

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