A Sydney mum who has been stranded in Africa for the past six months has finally made it back to Australia, only to find out that she might not have a home to return to.
Melissa Inkster, 44, arrived in the Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) on March 23 and became stranded after the country closed it borders due to COVID-19.
The past six months in DRC, a country known as the “rape capital of the world”, have been brutal.
As if being separated from her children wasn’t enough, Ms Inkster was also robbed multiple times, suffered a miscarriage, was almost stabbed and was forced to spend her life savings just to stay alive.
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Arriving back in Australia on Wednesday night should have been a relief but the Sydney mum has now found out she could be homeless when her two-week hotel quarantine ends.
“I have got an eviction notice for my place in Curl Curl. So now I am basically homeless. I am screwed,” Ms Inkster told news.com.au.
She has faced multiple cancelled flights in her attempt to get back to Australia after the borders reopened.
The 44-year-old was laid off the first flight she had booked home because Australia’s strict restrictions for returning travellers meant her economy ticket was excluded.
She was then offered a second change to fly but only if she purchased a $15,000 business class ticket.
Having no money herself, Ms Inkster’s friends raised the funds to buy the ticket to Sydney. But an email error by the agent meant the airline never received confirmation, meaning she had to wait another week before flying out.
Ms Inkster said this delay in getting home resulted in her real estate in Sydney’s northern beaches issuing her with an eviction notice.
“We had a payment plan in place with the real estate because I thought I was coming back earlier. But because of the flight cancellation and then the admin error I got delayed and couldn’t meet the payment plan,” she said.
“They basically said you have two weeks to pay your rent or you are evicted. I am stuck in quarantine. I do have assets to sell but I can’t do anything right now.”
Ms Inkster had gone to meet her Australian construction worker fiance, Joe Bagala, in March in Kisangani.
It was meant to be a short humanitarian trip so the couple could set up a charity for residents of the squalid and impoverished Tshopo province.
In early August Ms Inkster flew to the capital of Kinshasa on her own as that’s where she had to fly from to get to Sydney.
She said her fiance got together enough money to go and visit her just days before she got on the flight.
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Mr Bagala is still stuck in the DRC, with Ms Inkster desperately trying to raise funds to buy him a ticket, revealing she worried that if he doesn’t leave soon he might not survive.
“I am so worried about him. He could die over there. No one knows what it is like. It’s expensive and you have to pay for protection. It’s so dangerous,” she said.
“He is back over there with no one and I am worried he is not going to make it out alive.”
Not only have Ms Inkster and Mr Bagala been terrified for their safety for the past six months, the couple also suffered a tragic loss.
After she arrived, Ms Inkster, who has two sons from a previous marriage, became pregnant and was determined to return home as soon as the borders opened.
The couple spent what little money they had getting Ms Inkster a flight home, but a week before she was meant to leave she suffered a miscarriage.
After losing the baby, the mum then underwent a “dodgy” procedure that left her with an ongoing gynaecological infection.
The Sydney woman’s time in the Congo has been marred by tragedy and violence.
She said while the majority of locals were lovely, it was still a very dangerous place and people can be “ruthless”.
One morning she was robbed and later that day another man pulled out a knife and chased her in another attempted robbery.
Ms Inkster said she was “one second away” from being stabbed in the stomach before her fiance jumped in front of her and punched the attacker in the face.
Now she is back in Australia, Ms Inkster said the thing she is most excited about is seeing her children when she gets out of quarantine.
“I can’t wait to see them and their little faces. I think they are going to have to fight me to stop me hugging them,” she said.