Milla Austin-Abdullah Williams hasn't seen her young son in almost two months, and due to interstate travel restrictions, she's unsure when she will again.
21-month-old Jyrell is currently stuck in the Northern Territory — with neither of his parents — as they desperately try to bring him home.
Due to changing Covid restrictions and zones, the family hasn't been able to reunite, with little Jyrell currently in hotel quarantine in the NT with Katrina Dargan-Mammone, Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams' cousin, due to confusing border restrictions.
Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams originally took Jyrell to spend two weeks with his dad in Echuca, a rural town in Victoria in July. However, due to Victoria's lockdowns, it's been a struggle ever since to reunite mother and son.
"It's ridiculous," Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams told Yahoo News Australia. "When it comes down to kids, that should be special exemptions... because not [all] parents are together."
Jyrell's original visit was supposed to be two weeks
Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams originally look Jyrell to see his dad in July for two weeks, with the plan for him to come home to Adelaide after. However, when Melbourne was plunged into a sudden lockdown in July, she was suddenly unable to bring her son home,
Hoping it would just be a short lockdown, the mum decided it would be best for now for Jyrell to stay in Echuca.
"So we were like, oh crap, hopefully it's just this one lockdown and then we should be able to bring him back home," Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams explained.
"Obviously, the lockdown just kept going and going and going. It just kept pushing it back and back."
Over the course of six weeks, the desperate mother applied for exemptions to fly between Victoria and South Australia to bring her son home.
Through the NT is the 'only option'
The mum decided the quickest way to get Jyrell home would be to meet her cousin, Ms Dargan-Mammone in the NT, as you only require a permit to travel from Adelaide to Darwin and Ms Dargan-Mammone had secured a travel exemption to fly from Melbourne to Darwin because she was moving.
Unfortunately, the trouble had only just started.
As Echuca was classed as a low Covid risk, she and Jyrell would just have to return a negative Covid test and isolate until she received results.
However, as Ms Dargan-Mammone had travelled from Echuca to Melbourne on the bus, which had stopped at Southern Cross station, putting her in a 'red zone' or a Covid hotspot, it meant that under NT Covid laws, she would have to declare she was in a hotspot and quarantine.
Ms Dargan-Mammone had called the Covid hotline to explain her movements, and was assured it wouldn't be an issue.
"Which was a lie," Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams said. "Because the moment Kat and Jyrell stepped foot in Southern Cross they were in a red zone, which put them into quarantine."
Walked through the bus station for '20 seconds'
When the pair arrived in Darwin on Tuesday, Ms Dargan-Mammone explained where she'd been in Melbourne when she passed through security.
According to Ms Dargan-Mammone, they walked from the station straight into a taxi and were only in the hotspot for "20 seconds".
"They were even fine with us staying in Melbourne for the night at an apartment. But because we were in Southern Cross that literally seconds between getting off the bus and walking out the door [we'd been in a hotspot]," she explained.
"They said if the bus stop were outdoors we would have been fine."
Ms Dargan-Mammone's locations were verified by team members at the airport, where they cleared her to go to the motel she had booked in Darwin.
"They went and got their team leader, the team leader was like, 'yeah, that's fine, okay, you're free to go.'
"So instead of being transported here [to hotel quarantine] with the other group of people who were transported here, we just caught a taxi to the motel."
Slapped with $5000 fine
A few hours later, Ms Dargan-Mammone received a call saying a police escort was on the way to take them to hotel quarantine.
"We had seven bags with us and nobody was allowed to help with the luggage at all. So I had to carry him [Jyrell] and push around luggage everywhere," she said.
Once Ms Dargan-Mammone was in quarantine, she received a call saying she was currently listed as unapproved entry, but due to her circumstances, they will give her approved entry after quarantine for 14 days, which is $5000 because she and Jyrell are considered a family.
"[I told her] I'm going to have to call Mila because at the end of the day, this is her child and then I'll call you back straight away to let you know," she recalled, saying they were unable to mark her as approved in the meantime.
Unfortunately, by the time she went to call her back, the hotline had closed and there was no way for Ms Dargan-Mammone to directly contact the representative who rang her.
"So we were marked down as unapproved entrants to the NT, therefore we were here illegally," she explained.
"She said if I didn't let her know they would police escort us out. Obviously, I was freaking out."
After making several frantic phone calls and emails, at 8:10pm Ms Dargan-Mammone finally received a phone call from the Howard Springs facility.
"He basically was like, 'Look, you're an unapproved entry, your exemption has been denied. You have to leave tomorrow. Like first thing tomorrow, have you organised your flights [back to Victoria]?"
An hour later, she received another call saying she had been fined $5,017 for entering the NT illegally and for apparently lying on her border entry form about being in a hotspot.
Ms Dargan-Mammone is now hoping she can stay in the NT to reunite Jyrell with his mum, who will fly to Darwin from Adelaide when they've finished hotel quarantine, although says she's confused why they weren't given clear instructions as to when they were required to quarantine.
With the fine and the cost of quarantine, she's facing costs of over $10,000, as she explains on a GoFundMe page.
"They had the opportunity to turn us around at the airport twice, even vote for border control — they could have sent us straight home," she said.
As for Ms Austin-Abdullah Williams, she's desperately hoping she will see her son soon.
"It's the fact that I can't even get my son back. Like, he's my son and I can't even get him back," she said.
"I just want my baby boy home."
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