The Australian government’s decision, in which it threatened to imprison its citizens if they returned to their homeland from India, sparked widespread condemnation, as those who criticized this measure due to the Corona outbreak described it as “racist” and constitutes a violation of human rights.
Any Australian who returns home from India from Monday faces fines and up to five years in prison.
This decision comes in the wake of the Corona epidemic in India and will be effective until May 15, 2021.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the accusations that this decision was racist.
He told a local radio, “2GB” in Sydney, “The same accusations extended to the government for more than a year when the borders with the Chinese mainland were closed.”
He added, “The pandemic does not know political or ideological considerations … It is not about politics, this is a virus.”
And local media reported that this policy criminalized for the first time the Australians for returning to their country.
It is estimated that 9,000 Australians are in India, and 600 of them are classified as at risk.
The government said the measures, announced on Saturday, were in response to medical advice aimed at protecting the community.
The virus is spreading widely in India, so that the daily registered cases in the country reached 300,000 cases for the tenth consecutive day.
Officials said the high infection rates of Australians returning to their country over the past two weeks had raised concerns.
Australia has pursued a strategy aimed at eliminating the Corona pandemic by imposing strict border restrictions and mandatory quarantines – and this policy resulted in 910 deaths, much less than other countries.
Foreign Minister Maris Payne said that the proportion of Australians coming from India amounted to 57 percent of cases infected with Covid and who are subject to quarantine procedures, which is an increase compared to 10 percent during the month of March.
She added that the number of returnees from India had placed “a very great burden on health and medical services.”
However, those who criticized this decision, including medical and legal experts, believe that the government’s move to criminalize citizens from India is extreme and disproportionate to the health risks.
Federal Senator for the Green Party, Mehreen Farooqi, said in a tweet that the measures were “extremely horrific and racist.”
Andrew Bolt, a conservative and prominent media commentator, said that this policy is “so wasteful and irrational that we must also blame racism as the cause.”
“I can’t believe we can impose such a travel ban on white Australians who, for example, flee England,” he said.
Tom Sotfomasan, the former Australian Commissioner for Ethnic Discrimination, referred to the government’s “inconsistency” of policy, noting that the authorities had not imposed any bans or criminal sanctions on Australians returning to their country from other countries during the height of the Covid pandemic.
“We have not seen differential treatment involving the United States, the United Kingdom, or any other European country, although infection rates were very high and the risk posed by those coming from those countries was very high,” he told the Morning Herald.
“Different criteria are adopted here depending on which part of the world we are coming from,” he said.
Members of the Indo-Australian community, which comprises about 2.6 percent of Australias population, have expressed their anger at the surprise bans imposed by the authorities. Some members told the BBC that they felt treated like criminals and “second class citizens” because of their desire to escape from danger.
Legal experts have also raised concerns that the temporary ban violates international law. This includes the right of citizens not to be arbitrarily denied entry to their country – a right recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory.
“The government must make it clear that these measures are not discriminatory and are the only appropriate way to deal with the threat to public health,” the Australian Human Rights Commission said in a statement.
Fears of quarantine
The situation in India has also raised the issue of focusing again on the quarantine system in Australia, which has seen more than 12 Covid cases leak since November.
The country ran a successful policy of mandatory 14-day quarantine for all non-Australian visitors – most of which takes place in hotels.
However, the government said that the increasing cases of covid in India now threaten to deplete the health system in the country, which does not exceed 2 percent in dealing with arrivals with the epidemic.
The Australian Medical Association, the most important medical organization in Australia, said the need to temporarily prevent entry from India to Australia is evidence of the “fragility” of the country’s health system.
“Instead, we would prefer our government to focus on addressing deficiencies in the quarantine system and allowing the return of Australians stranded in India, not extending this ban too much,” she added.