The Australian government has failed our fellow citizens in India

Map of COVID-19 cases per million population in India by state and union territory provided by government. Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

There have been up to 10,000 Australian citizens stranded in India since Australia closed its international borders in March 2020 due to COVID-19.

Like 26,000 other citizens and permanent residents stranded in the UK, the US, and elsewhere, they have booked and re-booked flights home, only to have them cancelled because of border changes or arrival caps.

When India’s daily COVID case numbers rose sharply in early April this year, it didn’t take the Australian government long to come up with an extreme, knee-jerk solution. Late at night on Friday 27 April, they announced a “pause” on flights from India. They didn’t stop there… under our heavy-handed biosecurity laws, anyone attempting to enter Australia from India would not only face fines of up to $66,000, but jail time too. “Pause”… What an innocuous word for such a potentially devastating action.

This kind of threat has not applied to citizens attempting to return to Australia from any other nation.

Citizens who’ve been able to come home have done so without fines or jail time, and entered hotel quarantine (for some, it must be said, the financial and emotional cost has been very high).

Quarantine and entry exemptions have been rare, and appear to apply only to a privileged few.

To date, the states and territories have borne the lion’s share of the responsibility (and blame) for our COVID and quarantine measures.

If in the past 15-plus months the federal government had managed to sort out quarantine — their responsibility as per our Constitution — and locate it in open air facilities such as mining or defence accommodation sites, our fellow citizens — from India and elsewhere — could have returned home, and the community would remain safe. A win-win.

Had our national COVID vaccine roll-out not been delayed, this situation may have been avoided.

Instead, our federal government chose to single out one section of our community at a time when they are desperate to come home to relative safety.

While the government did send a jet carrying emergency supplies to India earlier this week, its hundreds of seats will remain empty on the return journey. A completely wasted opportunity.

This stands in stark contrast with the significant services members of the Indian community provide locally — including meals for the homeless, assistance for fire or flood-affected communities, and most recently, during Australia’s own COVID woes.

This week saw the tragic passing of an Australian permanent resident in India. He had been unable to return home, and his grieving wife is still stranded there, separated from her daughter. The “consular assistance” the government is providing is too little, too late when his life may have been saved.

Following an uproar in the community, the “pause” on flights from India is due to be lifted in eight days’ time. Why not lift it now? Time is of the essence.

The “pause” coincided with national cabinet meeting frequency increasing to twice weekly as Australia was on a “war footing”. One week later, they reverted to their monthly schedule. That was a quick war. A war certainly lost in the court of public opinion… and one that has just begun for India.



Writer | Egyptian Australian | Indophile | Word nerd | Bird nerd

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Mary Sayed

Writer | Egyptian Australian | Indophile | Word nerd | Bird nerd