Tens of thousands of Australians are still trapped abroad a year after the start of the pandemic. They are unable to go home, a result of the harsh coronation policy of the Australian government.
In doing so, the Australian government is violating human rights, says international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. He assists a group of stranded Australians who have filed a case against the Australian Government before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It invokes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“ It is a human right to return to your homeland, but there are still 40,000 stranded Australians worldwide. For a year now, they have been forbidden to go home. Because of this, they can‘t be with dead parents, they’re losing their jobs, it‘s really outrageous,” says Robertson.
Expensive airline tickets and quarantine hotels
The Australian border has been locked for over a year. Only people with an Australian passport or a residence permit are allowed in a small way. Every week about 6,000 Australians get permission to fly home. This limit is regularly adjusted, as in January when there were concerns about the more contagious British variant of the coronavirus. Thus, even people with a ticket cannot all leave.
In addition, anyone entering the country must be quarantined for two weeks at a government-designated hotel. The stay is at your own expense, about 2000 euros. Airline tickets are very expensive because of the limit on the number of people allowed to enter the country.
Airlines prefer passengers who pay the highest price for a ticket, as airplanes often can not even be half full. “If you want to make sure your flight isn’t canceled, you‘ll need to buy a first-class ticket. That costs about 9000 euros,” says Robertson.
Cindy Buitenhuis (45) is one of the Australians who has been trying to return to her family for a year. On Mother’s Day last year, she heard that her mother was terminally ill. “She felt unwell, was examined and was immediately hospitalized. It turned out that she has breast and bone cancer. I wanted to get to her as soon as possible, but my ticket was canceled two days before departure. Since then, I haven‘t been able to get a new ticket,” she says.
Buitenhuis struggles with the fact that she can not go to her sick mother:
Buitenhuis grew up with her Dutch father and Australian mother in Adelaide, but has lived and worked in Den Bosch since 2004. Before the pandemic, she returned to her homeland at least once a year. It is shocked by the brutal policy and the broad support of the Australian people. “I am now a risk to Australia. Because of the coronavirus, many Australians want to keep away everyone who is now abroad. But you can’t deny people the right to go home.”
The hard policy works, corona is as good as banned Down Under. On average, there are now about eight new cases a day, all people who come from abroad and are in protected quarantine. In total Australia has about 900 coronadodes out of a population of 25 million inhabitants, a strong contrast with the Netherlands where more than 16,000 people died from the virus.
The Australian government promised to get all stranded Australians home by Christmas last year. That was not possible, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, because many more people have indicated that they want to return to Australia. According to Morrison, the government is doing everything possible to get people home as soon as possible, for example by building more quarantine facilities and deploying repatriation flights.
Robertson says that allowing people with two sizes is measured. “If you‘re a tennis player at the Australian Open, a celebrity or wealthy businessman, it’s no problem to visit the country. But the ordinary Australians won‘t get in,” he says.
What can the UN do?
The United Nations does not have the authority to oblige countries to do anything. Yet Robertson says that the case in the UN Human Rights Committee is not just symbolic. “Australia has complied with an earlier UN ruling. Until 1997, sex between two men was still punishable in Tasmania, an island near Australia. That law was abolished after the case occurred at the UN,” he says. He expects a preliminary ruling from the Human Rights Committee in a few weeks’ time.
A big fear of Buitenhuis is that she won‘t be back in time to see her mother alive. “I know loss. My father died when I was in Thailand, I lost my best friendwhile I was on my way to her from Holland. I’m terrified that my mother will die while I‘m not with her. That’s the biggest source of stress right now,” she says.