'Running out of options' - Margaret River man stranded in Uzbekistan

The Margaret River man is staying safe overseas as best he can, with face masks and hand sanitiser.
The Margaret River man is staying safe overseas as best he can, with face masks and hand sanitiser.

Update: Daniele Manai has landed safely back in Perth on Tuesday March 24 and will now be in self-imposed isolation for the required period.

Margaret River resident and business owner Daniele Manai says he is living a nightmare, after his lifelong dream of travelling to Uzbekistan left him stranded with no options to return home to Australia.

Mr Manai, who co-owns popular Italian restaurant La Scarpetta Trattoria, said he travelled to the central Asian country alone and had been enjoying a sightseeing holiday when the COVID-19 coronavirus struck, grounding flights and closing borders.

Ahead of the Australian government's announcement that all travellers should return home, Mr Manai received notice that his Malaysian airlines flight - originally scheduled to land in Perth via Kuala Lumpur - had been cancelled.

Daniele Manai was enjoying a once in a lifetime tour through Uzbekistan when he was stranded by flight cancellations.

Daniele Manai was enjoying a once in a lifetime tour through Uzbekistan when he was stranded by flight cancellations.

Mr Manai spent the following days calling and emailing airlines and seeking assistance from the Australian Consular Emergency Centre (CEC).

"I contacted the Australian Embassy in Moscow as they are responsible for Uzbekistan as well, and they tried to help me, but they also suggested I should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia, specifically the CEC, and so I did.

"What happened when I called them left me speechless. I don't know how to describe it without sounding dramatic, because it was dramatic.

"I was asked three times if I was an Australian citizen, which I am, and I was told to just book myself hotels and a flight home when they reopened the borders.

"I said that this was an emergency and I needed help, and the guy on the phone said that I couldn't expect the government to send a flight just for me."

Mr Manai said he would never expect a charter flight to be sent to him, but he felt that the advice he was offered was nothing more than what any traveller with common sense would do.

"They said, book hotels, and try to book flights when the borders re-open, as if I wouldn't already do that.

"What I need is real advice about how I can get home, some sort of indication that progress is being made, where I should try to travel to maybe give myself a better chance of getting home."

The frustrating call continued.

"[The CEC representative[ then said 'Well, you're in Pakistan and we can't help'.

La Scarpetta Trattoria co-owner Daniele Manai is stuck in Uzbekistan and says he is trying to remain active in management of the business in Margaret River via virtual meetings and phone calls.

La Scarpetta Trattoria co-owner Daniele Manai is stuck in Uzbekistan and says he is trying to remain active in management of the business in Margaret River via virtual meetings and phone calls.

"I said 'I'm not in Pakistan, I'm In Uzbekistan' and he said 'Oh, Kazakhstan'.

"I then said that I know I have an accent but I am an Australian citizen.

"He replied that he hadn't mentioned my accent and that he was ending the conversation, which he did."

Despite living in Australia for over a decade and holding an Australian passport, the Sardinian-born man said he felt completely unsupported by his government and that although he speaks very good English, his Italian accent seemed to hinder his efforts.

"It's scary knowing that our government might be leaving me and people in my situation on their own without offering any help.

"Asking me several times if I'm an Australian citizen just because I have an accent is unacceptable.

"If you don't believe me, ask for my passport number, check my details. Don't just keep asking me as if my third answer might change. I said yes, and I meant it.

"My partner contacted the embassy in Australia and was given much the same advice - but at least it wasn't abusive or offensive."

Mr Manai said he is lucky to have the use of internet and to be able to make phone calls to stay in touch with his increasingly concerned family and friends in Australia.

Mr Manai is staying in this hotel room in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. While he can leave the hotel, he remains indoors to stay connected to his family and check flight updates via the internet.

Mr Manai is staying in this hotel room in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. While he can leave the hotel, he remains indoors to stay connected to his family and check flight updates via the internet.

"I am staying in a hotel in Tashkent, which is safe and clean, but it is very hard because I am alone and there are no tourists at all, let alone any other Aussies.

"My mother and father are in Sardinia, and I have family there, but being an island there is no way I could get there now.

"My best bet is to try to travel to the UK, and maybe I can get on a flight from London."

He said he had received a call overnight from the UK embassy in Tashkent, which is responsible for coordinating repatriation of Australians in Uzbekistan.

"They offered a flight to Delhi or to Seoul, unfortunately neither of those options are feasible as India has stopped issuing transit visas and South Korea has imposed a travel ban on non residents.

"The next flight, not guaranteed and not organised yet, is proposed to go to Tokyo on March 30 or April 1 or 2.

"The Italian Embassy in Tashkent is organising a charter flight to Europe and I might be eligible for that, but there is no date or time scheduled and I have no idea if that will even happen."

In the meantime, Mr Manai said he is trying to stay safe, limiting his trips outdoors, wearing a face mask and carrying hand sanitiser.

Mr Manai is staying in this hotel room in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. While he can leave the hotel, he remains indoors to stay connected to his family and check flight updates via the internet.

Mr Manai is staying in this hotel room in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. While he can leave the hotel, he remains indoors to stay connected to his family and check flight updates via the internet.

He had reached out to local councillors, and heard back from Augusta Margaret River Shire councillor Paula Cristoffanini on Saturday morning.

Cr Cristoffanini provided contact details for the offices of Nola Marino MP and Adele Farina MLC and Mr Manai said he would be speaking to them as soon as possible.

"I just want to come home to Australia. Even if I can only get to Sydney or another city, at least I will be at home in my country, where I know I can go to the hospital if I need help, and where I have family and friends nearby.

"I'm in real need of help and I'm running out of options."

A spokesperson for DFAT said the Australian Government estimates there are at least hundreds of thousands of Australians travelling overseas.

"We are tracking more than 30 cruise ships carrying about 3100 Australians. This number has reduced as some cruise ships have successfully docked and the passengers disembarked.

"Australia is working with foreign governments, airlines and travel companies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consular officials are doing all they can to assist those most in need.

"Most countries still have arrangements in place to allow foreigners to leave. Australians that have decided to return home are advised to do so as soon as possible.

"They should first contact their travel agent or transport provider to see what options are available.

"Where Australians are having difficulty because countries have closed their borders or because airlines have stopped operating, we are in consultation with governments, likeminded countries and the airline industry to help Australians find ways to get home.

"In some cases, it may be necessary for Australians to make arrangements to stay where they are for a longer period until departure can be arranged or border closures are lifted."