It wasn’t the wedding Jeisson Lasso and Derm Ryan were expecting.
But there they were, nearly 15,000 kilometres apart, with a 15-hour time difference, surrounded by 50 of their closest friends and family in their own homes, ready to say, “I do.”
Tiny squares of people’s faces popped up on the screen, some in their Sunday best.
They exchanged bilingual vows in front of a backdrop of matching flowers, had family members put on their rings and had their first dance over the phone.
“Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Mr Lasso told the ABC.
In late February, Mr Lasso travelled back to Colombia for his mother’s birthday after years of living in Melbourne for his master’s degree and work.
Back then, the pandemic had just started to create alarm but he had a ticket back to Melbourne and was hopeful.
However, the spread of COVID-19 quickly became apparent in both Colombia and Australia, the borders closed and despite booking another earlier flight, both were cancelled.
Mr Ryan, who is from Melbourne and works as an Indigenous youth affairs coordinator, said his work allowed him to be flexible so he could spend time on the .
“We just prioritise each other, and normalise things as much as we can,” Mr Ryan said, adding that it includes hanging out the washing and falling asleep during a movie date.
He also spends time learning to cook Colombian food over video calls with his mother-in-law, who doesn’t speak English.
The couple remain optimistic despite the challenges. Mr Lasso hopes to return to Australia by December.
“During this time, he has not cleaned his room once,” Mr Ryan said, laughing.
“Sorry, I’m just 16 hours away,” his husband replied with a smirk.
Affection through the virtual spaces
Australia first closed its borders to international travel in March and put a cap on Australians returning home, only allowing an initial 4,000 Australians a week — a number that has been recently revised to 6,000.
For Jerry Allen, seeing his wife’s and kids’ faces on video chats every day has been his saving grace.
He has been separated from his family with no way to reunite since flying back to Australia in January ahead of a planned move from Uganda.
“The [international] airport was shut very quickly and there was absolutely no opportunity [for them] to get out,” he said.
With his Australian sons and Ugandan wife unable to get on a repatriation flight, they have been stuck waiting for the Entebbe International airport to reopen in October.
“I have the family waitlisted on five flights through October with no guarantee,” he said.
Chloe Dimitriou is another who finds herself thousands of kilometres away from her partner.
She has been in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend for six years.
He’s been studying in Greece and they’ve managed to make it work long-distance but had plans to start their lives together in Australia in 2020.
Their plans have had to be put on hold since restrictions won’t allow her boyfriend into the country as a non-citizen.
Ms Dimitriou still remembers the day she heard the bad news. She had been sitting on her bed on the phone to her boyfriend in shock and feeling “completely numb to it all”.
“We are in physical pain, every single day,” she said.
“It hit me a few days later and I cried for what felt like months.
“Why would I ever give up on the person who makes me the happiest in the world because restrictions have kept us apart?”
New home, without a family
Families who’ve recently called Australia home have also felt the brunt of stringent travel restrictions and challenging circumstances.
Tauqeer Alam Khan hasn’t seen his wife and two kids for six months — his family are now homeless in Pakistan after being stuck overseas and unable to return to Australia.
His family are all waiting for their Australian permanent residency, except for their youngest daughter, who was born in Australia.
Battling depression from worrying about how to get them home to Geelong, he told the ABC he felt a sense of helplessness trying to fix the situation, but said his hands were tied.
“My daughter has almost forgotten me. My son, who is six, says, ‘Dad, you don’t love us? [Is] that why you have left us here?'”
When Mr Khan’s family could no longer stay at a hotel in Pakistan, he scrambled to arrange a place for them to stay, reaching out to friends to arrange for them to sleep on their couches.
Mr Khan couldn’t afford to extend their accommodation after he had lost his job during the pandemic.
“My kids can’t comprehend the situation and they keep crying all day as they can’t go to school and [they] don’t have a room or house or even access to essentials,” he said.
“Life is torn apart. [My] family is homeless and I can’t get them back to Australia where we came years ago to call home.
“We sold all our assets and left careers to build ones here. Now I’m worthless, helpless and can’t provide basic essentials for my wife and kids.”