Families of the people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, now declared lost, will be given free visas if they wish to come to Australia during the search and recovery operation, the immigration authority said Wednesday.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) was working with Malaysia Airlines and counterparts in China to facilitate visa arrangements for family and officials, said a spokesperson for the minister for immigration and border protection. "We will be using tourist visas and will be waiving visa fees," the spokesperson said in a statement to Xinhua. "We are encouraging all relatives involved in flight MH370 to contact their nearest Australian embassy to arrange visas for travel to Australia."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday that family members who choose to come to Australia would "find a welcoming country that is more than willing to embrace them in this very difficult time".
Western Australia state premier Colin Barnett said Wednesday that several hundred family members were expected to arrive as the search was being conducted out of the state capital Perth. "As a state government, we will assist the government and do all that we can to make them feel welcome, to be respectful of the very sad loss of their family members," he said.
"We will coordinate all that we can to assist them. There may be some sort of memorial service, I'm not even sure about that. We are dealing primarily with the Chinese population, but also many nationalities involved so I expect that to unfold over the next week or so," said Barnett.
Malaysia Airline flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight March 8. The plane was scheduled to land in Beijing the same day. The 226 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians. The plane lost contact along with its radar signal when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
The search area in the southern Indian Ocean where the ill-fated passenger jet has been assumed to have gone down is 2,500 km southwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state.