Australian families stuck for weeks in Nepal after the country changed its stance on surrogacy are at "breaking point", unsure if they will be allowed home with their babies.
"There's a sense of desperation, a sense of complete despair," said one father, Nick Martin*. Families are running out of vital supplies for their newborns; Mr Martin has had to rely on "complete strangers" flying to Nepal from Australia, contacted through social media, to deliver formula for his seven-week-old twins.
Dozens of Australians began the surrogacy process when it was legal in Nepal. But on August 25 the Supreme Court suspended commercial surrogacy, without directing what should happen to babies already conceived or born. Nepali officials have interpreted the order as applying retrospectively and will not issue exit visas for the children.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the status of surrogacy arrangements commissioned in Nepal before the ban remained unclear, despite attempts by the Australian government to clarify them.
"We will continue to encourage the Government of Nepal to put arrangements in place as soon as possible, allowing for the departure of Australian citizens," she said. "However, there are limits to what the Australian Government can do to influence the laws of a foreign country."
Mr Martin said up to 15 babies with Australian passports were "virtually prisoners" in Kathmandu. Families from the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Ireland, Brazil and Serbia were also in limbo, and "for all involved they are at breaking point".
"What we parents are seeking is international awareness and pressure on the Nepal Government to allow these innocent babies to leave Nepal," he said. "This is not a political or surrogacy debate, it is a humanitarian issue for these children."
Health problems forced Lisa McDonald* to return home without her baby son, leaving him in Kathmandu with her husband. She said with no resolution in sight, families felt abandoned and were losing hope.
"We're just average people who had the audacity to want a baby," she said.
Nepal is still recovering from devastating earthquakes and is in a state of unrest, with key government ministers resigning after a new constitution was adopted and violent protests disrupting the supply of food, fuel and other essentials from India.
"The new government is dealing with so many other pressing issues … these little Australians are way down their list," Mr Martin said. "Will the Australian government not go in to bat for its citizens?"
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Smartraveller website advises that the Nepali Department of Immigration will not issue exit permits until written clarification is received from the Ministry of Health and Population and "we do not know how long this will take".
"International commercial surrogacy is a complex area which raises significant legal and social considerations and is illegal in many jurisdictions, including some Australian states and territories," a DFAT spokesman said.
"Smartraveller advice has consistently strongly cautioned Australians to consider all legal and other risks involved in pursuing international surrogacy, and recommends that commissioning parents not consider surrogacy in Nepal."