Mr McGarry said his lawyer had advised him he would be able to travel to Australia and return to Vanuatu as a visitor. “The advice was there was nothing barring me from returning to Vanuatu as a visitor – I can’t work but I can be with my family,” he said.
But when he went to board the flight to Port Vila on Saturday morning, he was told by Virgin staff the country had issued an order barring him from flying to the country.
His partner returned home alone to look after their two young daughters.
Speaking from Brisbane, Mr McGarry told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age his young family in Vanuatu were “shattered”.
“I don’t know any other words for it. I just spoke to my partner and she was in tears,” he said. “My little girls aren’t eating, they’re not sleeping properly, they’re depressed.”
Mr McGarry said he believed the cancellation of his work permit and the ban from the country were related to the Daily Post‘s articles about Chinese influence in the middle of this year.
In July, the paper broke a story about the deportation of six Chinese nationals, including four who had obtained Vanuatu citizenship under its “citizenship by investment” scheme, which allows foreigners to become citizens within months – without residing in the country – at a cost of about $US150,000 ($220,140).
Mr McGarry said he planned to challenge the ban in the Vanuatu courts, which he described as “the one unsullied light in our democracy”. He is also lodging an appeal against the decision to cancel his work permit.
“My personal feeling is this is just spiteful,” he said. “But it’s really important to keep it all in context – you look at the duress other journalists face in Vanuatu and throughout the Pacific, my case isn’t overly special.”
Attempts were made to contact the Vanuatu government for comment. It has previously said Mr McGarry’s work permit was not renewed because it felt his position could be held by a local citizen.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.