Aussie mum stranded in ‘rape capital’
A Sydney mother is stranded and alone in an African country known as the "rape capital of the world", unable to get a plane ticket home due to Australia's harsh COVID-19 restrictions.
Melissa Inkster is broke, frightened, suffering an infection and unable to get on a flight out of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
She was due to fly home on Saturday but Australia's returns policies for citizens - among the most stringent in the world - meant she was among 50 passengers bumped off the flight.
Now only if she can pay $15,000 for a business class ticket can she be one of only 30 passengers aboard each weekly flight which resumed today from Kinshasa to Australia.
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.
The country only reopened its borders today, but Australian flight restrictions mean that instead of returning home to see her young children for the first time in six months, she is stuck.
"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.
"Now I thought I was coming home and I'm not. It's devastating."
Future flights are booked out and Ms Inkster is not even in a position to purchase a ticket.
She has already been robbed and attacked in the DRC, is 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".
Ms Inkster told news.com.au the company she founded, Perfect Au Pairs Australia, was in limbo because of coronavirus and she couldn't get access to JobKeeper or her superannuation.
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.
A gofundme.com page has been set up to try and help her raise the airfare home.
She has previously bought four tickets that were cancelled or the routes were closed to flying.
Ms Inkster had paid $3480 for an economy class ticket and left her fiance in the Congolese city of Kisangani, to travel to Kinshasa alone on a cargo flight sitting on a charcoal sack among live goats.
Ms Inkster had gone to meet her Australian construction worker fiance, Joe Bagala, in March in Kisangani as they set up a charity for residents of the squalid and impoverished Tshopo province.
It was meant to be only a short stay for her en route to a work conference in Europe to try and grow her business.
Mr Bagala was also seeking a brief respite from PTSD he suffered as the sole survivor of a horrific car crash.
In 2017, he was a passenger in car that flipped and caught on fire near the Darling Harbour Novotel.
He was pulled from the flames minutes before the car exploded but his three friends died.
Mr Bagala, who still remembers them screaming alive in the burning car, said giving to people worse off than him in Tshopo Province helped him to psychologically heal.
After joining Mr Bagala in Africa, Ms Inkster, a mother of two sons from a previous marriage, became pregnant with their child and was determined to return home as soon as the border reopened.
"We couldn't afford my fiance to come back," she said.
"The priority was to get me on a flight was I was 10 weeks pregnant. We lost the baby one week prior to me leaving."
After suffering a miscarriage in Kisangani and undergoing a "dodgy" procedure, Ms Inkster now has an ongoing gynaecological infection.
Returning to Kinshasa this week, Ms Inkster stayed at the home of a government minister and his wife.
When she was thrown off the Qatar flight, she felt she couldn't continue to impose on their generosity.
"I mean, they gave me their bed, just lovely people," she told news.com.au.
Ms Inkster is now paying for a hotel room and says "despite it being a third world country, Kinshasa is an expensive city".
Her friend, Kylie Cook, told news.com.au she was alarmed about the predicament Ms Inkster was now in and she had warned her to try and not leave the hotel.
"Mel's a powerhouse, I mean she set up her business when her baby was just six weeks old and the rest of us were just trying to get out of bed in the morning.
RELATED: Aussie doctor's face mask rant
"She's not an idiot, she's just in a very bad spot, and she doesn't know how much longer she can afford to pay for a hotel in Kinshasa and risk going outside when she is so alone."
Ms Cook said her friend's alternative was to return to Kisangani on her own and meet up with Mr Bagala while she waited to see if she could get on a flight.
In Kisangani, the couple were embraced by the locals for their charitable work, with Mr Bagala even being made a chieftain.
But the couple was also robbed and attacked.
Mr Bagala saved Ms Inkster's life when a man tried to stab her as he stole her purse.
After getting bumped off the first flight out, Ms Inkster messaged her friend Kylie, saying "Zero luck getting on flight. Only way is to her biz or first class it's insane!
"Do you realise we are the ONLY country in this world stopping its own people coming back?"
News.com.au has 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".
If she can raise the fare, Ms Inkster may have to wait up to a month to get a seat because the once weekly flights from Kinshasa to Australia are booked out by people desperate to leave the Congo.
So far, the gofundme.com page Kylie Cook has set up for her friend has reached $2480 of its $15,000 total.
RELATED: COVID-19 blame game could be deadly
In a grateful Facebook post, Ms Inkster wrote on Saturday, "Thank you, thank you to the people who have donated" and explained why she had gone to Africa.
She also said of her plight, "Third world countries aren't the safest place to have medical treatment.
"People think because it's a third world country that it is cheap. It is not.
"Corruption is rife, crime is high, the population is desperate.
"One-and-a-half weeks ago I was chased with a knife and robbed.
"My life was saved by Joe from the attack. I was moments always from being stabbed.
"This place is incredibly scary.
"Now that I was sure I was flying home I have no money to get me back.
"I have borrowed from family and anyone who can help, but I can't keep doing that.
"I can't access my super or any assistance for JobKeeper nothing because I'm not in Australia.
"I have had to use my life savings to survive.
"Again thank you for all the people who have helped I love you all very much xxx."
To contribute to Ms Inkster's gofundme.com page, go to Help Mel get home to her boys.
Originally published as Aussie mum stranded in 'rape capital'