"We don't want to die, we're scared for our community."
These were the words of an East Arnhem Land man who flew back home from Katherine today.
"We would be stuck here, with no way to get home," Donald Marawil said.
"We would be stuck here, with no way to get home."
Charter flights have been booked in the urgency to return vulnerable Indigenous people back to their homes in remote communities before the coronavirus pandemic strikes.
Many buses have also been booked across the Territory in the mass "return to country".
Indigenous health is of major concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 74 remote communities across Australia were closed to non-essential travel last Friday.
As coronavirus cases in the Northern Territory begin to climb, authorities are now scrambling to move those stuck in regional centres such as Katherine and Alice Springs back to their communities using both buses and small planes.
Arnhem Land resident Donald Marawili said he had been unable to return home because of the wet season and without the "Return to Country" program he'd have to remain at risk in Katherine.
This sentiment was echoed by Kalano Community Association chief executive officer Bill Headley, whose organisation is facilitating the transport services from Katherine.
"People are happy, we're getting them back to their own environment rather than sleeping rough in Katherine or Darwin.
"They're often victims of their own circumstances in that they lack the resources to get back home," Mr Headley said.
"They are a high-risk group and they're much more exposed in centres verses communities. We're doing this to reduce the risk in these communities and for the Indigenous population as a whole," he said.
While the program is voluntary and there is nothing yet stopping individuals from returning to centres, Mr Headley expects to transport between 100-200 people from the Katherine area alone.
According to participant Sebastian Mununggur, the communities themselves are extremely worried.
"Coronavirus is all anybody is talking about at the moment, everyone is scared in Katherine and back home," Mr Mununggur said.
"I've never been on a plane before, and I'm excited to be back home and see my family," he said.
If you are trying to return to a remote area, please contact Kalano Community Association at (08) 8972 2588.
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