In a knee-jerk reaction, the Australian Federal Government has imposed a travel ban on flights from COVID-ravaged India where Australian citizens are prohibited from entering their own country and risk fines of up to $66,000 or five years’ jail term if they attempt to do so.
There are up to 10,000 stranded Australians who wish t return home due to the havoc COVID-19 has created in India where daily infection rates have reached over 400,000 and daily death toll almost 4,000 with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen.
Critics are calling the travel ban from India as racist since no such drastic steps were when the US, the UK and Europe were going through similar deadly and infectious COVID outbreaks in the past year.
Australia is the only nation to place an outright ban on its own citizens flying home. While other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom have stopped flights from India, they have not criminalised the actions of their own citizens.
Two Australians, Jason George and Alex Marshall, are challenging the system through the United Nations and are being advised by Professor Kim Rubenstein, Australia’s leading expert on citizenship law, and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
“I don’t think there is any objection to stopping commercial and tourist flights from hotspot countries but to threaten five years’ imprisonment for any Australian who aspires to return home is ludicrous,” Robertson commented on the government’s move regarding the travel ban.
An Indian diaspora organisation, The Humanism Project (THP) has released the following statement on the travel ban:
THP is deeply concerned at the travel ban on Australian citizens returning from India accompanied by the criminalisation of such travel under the Biosecurity Act.
Indeed, Australia should take all possible measures to protect our biosecurity. However, it is also Australia’s moral obligation to look after its own citizens. The decision to impose hefty fines and jail term, without a plan to ensure safe return of its own citizens, is irresponsible, lacks compassion and raises serious human rights concerns.
The government must come forward with a plan that will ensure safe return of all Australians abroad and announce measures, and a plan, to bring all Australians home, many of whom have been stranded overseas for a number of months.
The government should also announce a timeline for establishing suitable quarantine facilities so that Australians could travel to Australia from India, and from any other country, without putting Australia’s biosecurity at risk.
We hold serious concerns about these extraordinary measures and support Australian Human Rights Commission’s request to the Parliament’s Senate Select Committee to review these new restrictions immediately.