Australians returning from India may be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fines after the government makes a temporary illegal trip.
The Ministry of Health said the ruling was “based on the proportion of people in quarantine who had acquired Covid-19 infection in India.”
Earlier this week, Australia banned all flights from India.
India has an estimated 9,000 Australians, 600 of whom are classified as vulnerable.
This is the first time an Australian has been criminalized for returning to his country, according to Australian media reports.
A doctor told ABC that the government’s move was disproportionate to the threat posed by those returning from India.
“Our family is literally dying abroad in India … there’s no way to get rid of them. This is abandonment,” said Dr. Vyom Harmer, a general practitioner and health commentator.
From Monday, anyone staying in India within 14 days of their expected arrival in Australia will be banned from entering the country.
Failure to comply with the new ruling could result in imprisonment of 5 years, a fine of A $ 66,000 (£ 37,000), or both. According to the Ministry of Health, this decision will be reviewed on May 15.
“The government has not downplayed these decisions.” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement..
“But it is important to protect the integrity of Australia’s public health and quarantine system and reduce the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities to manageable levels.”
Erosion of rights
Frances Mao, BBC News Sydney
There is an inscription on the front jacket of every Australian passport. It seeks protection and assistance when citizens are fighting abroad.
“Australia … I urge all parties to allow Australian citizens to pass freely and provide all support and protection as needed.”
Who would have thought that Australians are now struggling to “cross freely” to their country? Re-entry and living in your country is a fundamental aspect of citizenship. The right of return is recognized by international law and is stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But the problem for the left-behind Australians is that they cannot claim the UN treaty in Australian courts. Citizenship (and many other freedoms) is not guaranteed under their law. Australia lacks a human rights charter or explicit protection in its constitution.
Therefore, in an emergency, the government can turn something into a criminal offense overnight. At the height of last year’s pandemic, the government strengthened biosecurity law and gave the Minister of Health near unconditional powers to bypass Congress.
As a result, citizens currently trying to escape the danger zone may go to jail trying to get home. Legal objections to this two-week ban can be time consuming and costly. Public anger and pressure may be the only effective remedy.
The ministry said it had agreed with India to send emergency medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment.
“Our mind is on the Indian people, and on our Indian-Australian community,” the statement added.
In India, the number of cases has skyrocketed to 19 million, bringing the total death toll to 200,000. Last week, more than 300,000 new cases were reported daily.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020, Australia has implemented a series of rigorous measures to eliminate the virus abroad. Australia has near zero infection rates and far fewer deaths than most countries, while strict lockdown policies leave more people behind. Australians got stuck abroad.
This week’s ban on the arrival of Indians marked an escalation-the first time the country has stopped evacuation and blocked citizens from returning home altogether. There is a strong need to do more to get Australians home.