IT has been more than 20 months since Michael Barnes has hugged his children.
Mr Barnes is now stuck in the United Kingdom, having missed six flights home in the past three months due to flight cancellations, one even as he was checking in at Heathrow Airport.
The family of the father-of-four has made a desperate plea to bring him home, with friends launching a fundraising campaign to help him get back to those who have not seen him since March 2019.
Mr Barnes, from Daylesford, departed Australia in March 2019 to work as a specialised carpenter on a traditional wooden rollercoaster in Norway, a job he took in order to provide a better life long-term for his children. It was estimated to last 12-14 months.
"Because of Norway's immediate lockdown in response to the first wave sweeping across Europe, flights through Europe became impossible and extremely expensive," Mr Barnes said. "My first opportunity for a flight was booked for October 1 through a Norwegian travel agency. This was cancelled two weeks prior to flying, and cancellation and refunds take three to five months to be processed.
"With limited flights from Norway, I chanced the UK and then the second wave and lockdown hit and had two more flights booked, November 3, again cancelled two weeks prior and the third flight on December 1 was cancelled as I tried to check in at the Emirates check-in desk at Heathrow."
Mr Barnes said all the flights had cost him around $2000 each, which he had still not received refunds for.
"Over the past four months I've been registered with DFAT for flight assistance," he said.
"Unfortunately I missed out on three DFAT/Qantas organised flights to Darwin November 29, December 29 and January 15. The latest DFAT directive to stranded Aussies is to find own way home at or own cost."
"The reason I contacted DFAT was for their emergency flight assistance because I have lost all my money on cancelled flights."
Mr Barnes has four children at home, son Jake 26, daughter Madison 23 and sons Jordan, 21 and Saxon 17
Jordan said it had been an incredibly tough almost two years for the family.
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He said it had particularly affected his younger brother Saxon, who was 15 when his father left and was now 17.
"It's all about the milestones, the mental support of having someone like your dad with you," Jordan said.
"He has always been about his family. He went to Norway so he could do more for us, the fact he hasn't been able to get home for 6 months has had a huge impact.
"In 2019 when he left it was a tough time, but we thought it was an exact date he'd return, now it's almost become a feeling of he won't come back.
"In August when he booked his first flight home, we were saying we could see him on that date, he's missed three birthdays."
Saxon said he had been personally affected in that he had to turn down work opportunities without his dad around.
"It's affected me because it has been the transition for me becoming independent, the most important part of my life," he said.
"I also had to turn down a carpentry apprenticeship because I wasn't able to get to and from work without dad."
Right now, Mr Barnes is staying with friends in the UK, but it is unlikely that arrangement will be able to last long term.
Friend Chantel Leaver has started a fundraiser to assist Mr Barnes in returning home. Not only will he need to book and pay for his own flights, but he will also be required to pay for his own two weeks of quarantine upon arrival.
"Barney is a hard working man, such a hard worker, and devoted dad with that can do Aussie attitude, and humble," Ms Leaver said.
"He's Salt of the earth, cheerful and positive, even during this ordeal, being stranded and stuck in the UK he is positive and not letting it get him down.
"He just needs our help now as the government channels are limited, and he needs to get home to his children and to his commitments here including house and mortgage.
I set up the fundraiser to try and raise money for the massive costs involved to get him home including Flights and hotel quarantine, as he has already spent his personal money.
Barney needs his community now to rally around and help him as his options are limited and he is stranded in the UK."
As of December 16, there were an estimated 30,000 Australian still stuck overseas, of which 10,000 were in India and around 4500 in the United Kingdom which has gone into severe lockdown as its second pandemic wave has hit.
Amnesty International has called on the federal government to act immediately to bring home Australians stranded overseas, or risk violating their human right.
Amnesty International Australia campaigner Joel Clark said several articles of international law explicitly state that people have the right to leave and return to their own country and not be deprived of the right to do either.
"At least 25,000 Australians, including up to 3000 deemed vulnerable, are stranded overseas - which is 25,000 people whose human rights are being violated," Mr Clark said.
"To get Australians home, the Federal Government needs to raise the caps they have in place that are preventing people from coming home. By raising it above the current arbitrary cap of 6000 people returning per week, the government could have these people home in no time.
"The government should leave no stone unturned; on top of increasing the cap they can charter additional flights, employ RAF resources, use airports other than Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, or use federal quarantine facilities to increase capacity for people to isolate themselves."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its "highest priority at this time" is helping vulnerable Australians overseas.
"DFAT has expanded its financial assistance program to make available further emergency funds for the most vulnerable Australian citizens overseas," a spokesperson said.
"Further facilitated flights to support the return of vulnerable Australians overseas are planned for the coming weeks from the United Kingdom, India, United States and other countries."
If you wish to donate to the GoFundMe fundraiser, you can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/f/lets-get-our-barney-home