Tens of thousands of Australians are still trapped abroad a year after the start of the pandemic. They are unable to go home, as a result of the Australian government’s tough corona policy.
In doing so, the Australian government is acting in violation of human rights, says international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. He is assisting a group of stranded Australians who have brought a case against the Australian government before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He relies on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“It is a human right to be able to return to your native country, but there are still 40,000 Australians stranded worldwide. They have been forbidden to go home for a year. They cannot be with critically ill parents, they touch their job, it’s really scandalous, “said Robertson.
Very expensive airline tickets and quarantine hotels
The Australian border has been locked for over a year. Only people with an Australian passport or residence permit are rarely admitted. About 6,000 Australians are allowed to fly home every week. That limit is regularly adjusted, such as in January when there were concerns about the more contagious British variant of the corona virus. For example, even people with a ticket cannot all leave.
In addition, everyone entering the country is required to be quarantined for two weeks in a hotel designated by the government. The stay is at your own expense, about 2000 euros. Plane tickets are very expensive due to the limit for the number of people that can enter the country.
I wanted to see my sick mother as soon as possible, but my ticket was canceled
Airlines prefer passengers who pay the highest price for a ticket, as airplanes often cannot even be half full. “If you want to make sure your flight won’t get canceled, you have to buy a first-class ticket. It costs about $ 9,000,” 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 learned that her mother was terminally ill. “She did not feel well, had an examination and was immediately admitted to the hospital. It turned out that she has breast and bone cancer. I wanted to see her as soon as possible, but my ticket was canceled two days before departure. It has since been canceled. I was no longer able to get a new ticket, ”she says.
Buitenhuis struggles with the fact that she cannot go to her sick mother:
Buitenhuis grew up in Adelaide with her Dutch father and Australian mother, but has lived and worked in Den Bosch since 2004. Before the pandemic, she returned to her native country at least once a year. She is shocked by the tough policy and the widespread support for it from the Australian population. “I am now at risk for Australia. Many Australians want to keep everyone abroad away because of the corona virus. But you cannot deny people the right to go home.”
The hard policy does work, corona is virtually banned Down Under. On average, there are now about eight new cases a day, all of them people who come from abroad and are in protected quarantine. In total, Australia has about 900 corona deaths in a population of 25 million inhabitants, a strong contrast with the Netherlands, where more than 16,000 people have died from the virus.
The Australian government promised to get all stranded Australians home by Christmas last year. That did not work, 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 it can to get people home as quickly as possible, for example by building more quarantine facilities and using repatriation flights.
Robertson says that when admitting people, double standards are measured. “If you’re a tennis player at the Australian Open, a celebrity or a wealthy businessman, it’s no problem to visit the country. But the ordinary Australians don’t get in,” he says.
What can the UN do?
The United Nations does not have the authority to oblige countries to do anything. Still, Robertson says the case at the UN Human Rights Committee is not just symbolic. “Australia has complied with a previous UN ruling. Until 1997, sex between two men was a criminal offense in the state of Tasmania, an island off Australia. That law was abolished after the case went to the UN,” he says. He expects a preliminary ruling from the Human Rights Committee in a few weeks.
A great fear of Buitenhuis is that she will not be back in time to see her mother alive. “I know loss. My father died when I was in Thailand, I lost my best friend while on my way to her from the Netherlands. I am terrified that my mother will die while I am not with her. That is the biggest source of stress. right now, ”she says.