SYDNEY, Australia – A group of Australians who have been unable to travel home due to a COVID-19 quota on arrivals has filed a complaint against their government. The complaint was filed with the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva in response to allegations that Australians are being barred from entering their own country.
To stop the spread of the latest coronavirus, Canberra authorities closed international borders in March 2020. Citizens and permanent residents are permitted to return, but due to airline capacity restrictions and mandatory hotel quarantine, the number of people who can return is restricted. Almost 500,000 Australians have returned home since the pandemic started, but tens of thousands more are still awaiting flights.
According to health authorities, now that population transmission of COVID-19 has been largely eliminated, the greatest danger to Australia is returning travelers who have brought the virus with them and have unwittingly infected hospital and hotel workers. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of Queensland says it’s a big concern.
“The numbers from overseas in our hospitals are now 68 returning travelers coming back, and as I said, that is a real danger for us.” A group of disgruntled Australians has filed a lawsuit over the government’s “strong constraints,” claiming they are “ordinary Aussies who have been left high and dry by an unfeeling government.”
Officials in Canberra have acknowledged that they have no way of knowing when any of the stranded Australians will be able to return home. Quotas on those allowed to return were described as “temporary” and “will be checked.” Both sides of the debate, according to Jane McAdam, director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, have compelling points.
“There is no absolute right to join one’s country under international human rights law, but the government cannot deprive you of that right unilaterally. As a result, people’s entry can be subject to brief, temporary restrictions as long as they are fair, required, and based on specific legal requirements, according to McAdam.
The number of Australian citizens and permanent residents who want to return home is highest in India, followed by the United Kingdom, the United States, the Philippines, and Thailand. Australia has confirmed that it will not completely reopen its international borders until 2022. Since the pandemic started, Australia has diagnosed just over 29,300 COVID-19 cases.