Australian citizens who wish to return from India to their country could face up to five years in prison or be fined more than R $ 270,000 after the government temporarily banned travel between the two countries.
The Australian press has reported that this will be the first time that Australians have been criminalized for their return to their country.
The Australian Ministry of Health said that the decision was taken “based on the proportion of people isolated in quarantine who have contracted Covid-19 infection in India.”
Earlier this week, Australia banned all flights from India.
There are about 9,000 Australians in India, 600 of them classified as at risk.
A doctor told ABC that the government’s behavior was disproportionate.
“Our families are literally dying in India (…) now we have no way whatsoever to get them out of there, and this is desertion,” said GP and health commentator Byom Sharmer.
Starting Monday (3), anyone who has been in India within 14 days of the expected date of arrival in Australia will be banned from entering the country.
Failure to comply with the new decision could result in five years in prison, a fine of 66,000 Australian dollars (277,000 Brazilian reals), or both. The Ministry of Health said the decision will be reviewed on May 15.
“The government is not making these decisions because it wants to,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, it is crucial to protect the integrity of Australia’s public health and quarantine systems, and to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities to a manageable level.”
Erosion of rights
Frances Maw, BBC News M Sydney
Every Australian passport has a clause that talks about protection and assistance for citizens when they are in conflict abroad.
“Society of Australia (…) asks all stakeholders to allow the bearer, who is an Australian citizen, to pass freely, without permission or hindrance, and to provide all the assistance and protection he needs.”
Who would have thought that Australians are now struggling to “return freely” to their country? Returning to and living in your nation is an essential aspect of citizenship. The right of return is recognized in international law, and it is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But the problem for Australians is that you cannot discuss a UN treaty in an Australian court. Citizenship rights – and many other freedoms – are not guaranteed by your law. Australia lacks a human rights charter or explicit protections in its constitution.
So, in an emergency, the government can criminalize something overnight. At the height of the pandemic last year, the government implemented the Biosafety Act to give the Health Minister nearly unconditional powers to bypass Parliament.
For this reason, citizens who are now trying to escape from the danger zone can be arrested for attempting to return to their homes. Legal appeal to this two-week ban would take time and costly. Public anger and stress may be the only effective treatment.
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The ministry said it has agreed with India to send emergency medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment.
“Our hearts go out to the people of India and our Australian Indian community,” the statement added.
India has seen cases rise to 19 million and total deaths 200,000. Last week, there were more than 300,000 new cases reported every day.
Australia has implemented a series of drastic measures to keep the virus out of the country since the epidemic began in February 2020. Although the country has close to zero infection rates and has far fewer deaths than most countries, the strict lockdown policies have left many people. Australians are stranded overseas.
The ban on people arriving from India this week marks an escalation – the first time that the country has completely banned its citizens from returning home.