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Hermit: Australia blocks its citizens in a completely new Covid policy

Critics of the new policy say that instead of rescuing stranded Australians, their government is abandoning them, in breach of its obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his right to enter [or her] own country. ”

While many countries have imposed restrictions on the arrival of foreigners during Covid, Kim Rubenstein, Australia’s leading civil law expert at the University of Canberra, told POLITICO that “no other democracy has taken such extreme measures against its citizens.” Australian Commissioner for Human Rights Edward Santow told local television that “people have the right to return to their own country.”


The government’s political estimate is that the 25 million Australians already in Australia will be grateful that their government is taking another stringent measure to protect them from Kovid. The immediate victims of this policy are about 9,000 Australians stranded in India, ranging from dual nationals returning to India for family funerals, to famous sports stars playing in the cricket competition in the Indian Premier League.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison avoided confronting reporters after the decision, leaving Health Secretary Greg Hunt to say that “the risk assessment that informs the decision is based on the proportion of foreign quarantine travelers in Australia who have acquired a Covid infection. 19 in India. “The Australian Television Corporation reported that 47 cases of Covid were registered among quarantine passengers who recently arrived from India last week.

In April, there were on average only three new cases of Covid per day in Australia, almost all of which were identified in the country’s strict hotel quarantine, which means that there is no community transmission of the new coronavirus in Australia.

“Citizenship means little if you can’t use your passport to return home when you need it. At first glance, this policy undermines the value of citizenship, “Professor Tim Southfomassan told POLITICO. Southfomaine is a former head of the Australian Commission on Human Rights. “There is considerable public concern about this policy and its discriminatory nature,” he said.

The problems with discrimination are twofold.

First, that politics creates a second class of citizenship: Australian citizens in India have less right to protection than Covid than citizens currently in Australia.

Second, critics say India’s outbreak has been treated racistly. Given the likely count of the outbreak in India in Kovid, today India still has a lower rate of infection and mortality per capita than the United States, the United Kingdom and many other white countries with a majority at the peak of their outbreaks in Kovid . Arrivals in Australia from these countries were not banned, Southfomasan noted.

By comparison, the United States still allows Americans and aid workers to return home from India, although restrictions on others trying to enter the United States from India will begin on Tuesday.

Although the Australian government has said it will review the policy on May 15, potentially ending it, there is little interest in the change. “The Australian public has rewarded governments for taking harsh action in response to Covid-19, as we have seen from the silent return of many US governments over the past year,” said Southfomassane, including the conservative Tasmanian government, the first to close its borders in 2020. – who re-entered power on election Saturday.

The Australian Human Rights Commission – a statutory body – said in a statement Saturday that it had “deep concerns” about the new rules and called on the Australian Senate to conduct an investigation. “The need for such restrictions must be publicly justified. The government must show that these measures are non-discriminatory and the only appropriate way to address the threat to public health, “the Commission said.

Although the Australian Biosafety Act allows for urgent action by the country’s health minister, it requires that such measures not be “more restrictive or intrusive than is required in specific circumstances”. Sarah Joseph, a professor of human rights at Griffith University, told POLITICO that it was likely a legal challenge based on excessive use of power, and that the tactic gave critics the highest chance of repealing the new policy.

The UN Human Rights Committee hit Australia last month over its policy of restricting Covid’s arrival, which limited overseas arrivals to between 3,000 and 6,000 a week, leaving some 35,000 Australians stranded abroad despite registering with the government. that they want to return home.

The UN committee has ruled that the Australian government should “facilitate and ensure the speedy return” of two Australians who claim that restrictions on arrival violate Australia’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The national government operates a specialized quarantine facility for returning passengers on repatriated flights leased by the government to a remote town in the country’s northern territory. The Howard Springs facility has a capacity of only 850 passengers every 14 days (the government plans to double that capacity), which means it could take months to clear the backlog of Australians left overseas. If flights from India resume in the coming weeks, many passengers will have to undergo quarantine at regular hotels rented by the government.

There is no way to the normal

Although Australia may win the battle against Covid-19, it risks losing the war to return to normal life.

Australian governments, along with the federal government, have adopted a set of popular border closures and restrictions over the past 12 months. The left-wing Western Australian government has locked people who have not lived in the state for more than 220 days, starting in April 2020 and continuing to win re-election in a landslide on March 13.

At the national level, the federal government has banned almost all departures from the country and has no specific opening plan.

Australians and permanent residents must apply for exemption to leave, in addition to traveling to neighboring New Zealand. The policy catches at least 4.4 million foreign passport holders – including US citizens – and Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is “in no hurry” to change the system.

Tourism and education have taken a big hit. Typically, before Covid hits, 10 million foreign tourists and 900,000 foreign students will arrive in Australia each year, but almost all are currently locked out of the country.

Victoria is considering a pilot program to allow 125 international students a week to return to Australia for personal training. At this rate, it will take the state two decades to bring its international student population back to pre-Covid levels. The problem, again: lack of quarantine facilities.

Simon Westway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, said Australia would soon have to change its policy or risk permanent damage to its tourism sector. The current fourteen-day quarantine policy completely rules out a viable tourist experience, he said. “It’s just not going to work commercially or it’s going to work for individuals,” Westway said.

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