Australians stranded in India feel abandoned by government

·3-min read

Australian Sunny Joura flew to India to see his dying father and has been stuck there for a year as his home country enforced one of the world's harshest coronavirus border controls.

The 49-year-old is among at least 9,000 Australians stuck in India -- where a record-breaking coronavirus surge has overwhelmed the healthcare system -- after his country made flying home a crime.

Joura has tried to leave on limited repatriation and commercial flights but failed, with his seats repeatedly cancelled -- most recently a day after Australia imposed a complete travel ban.

"The street that I live on -- 60 to 70 percent of households are infected with Covid. And in some cases, whole families are infected," Joura told AFP in New Delhi, where he is holed up in a house with his 72-year-old mother.

While many countries have imposed travel restrictions on India, their citizens are still allowed to return home.

Australia however banned all travellers from the South Asian nation until May 15 and threatened jail time and a hefty fine for those who try.

The decision was made under biosecurity laws -- famously used against Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his former wife Amber Heard when they failed to declare their pet dogs.

After a widespread backlash, the government said Friday it would resume repatriation flights after mid-May to bring home hundreds of "vulnerable" Australians.

No decision was made on the resumption of commercial flights.

But with India's health crisis still raging, every Australian should be considered by Canberra as vulnerable, Joura said.

"It's scary. Every day, we are in a way not sure whether we're going to get it (Covid-19)," said Joura.

Infection, he added, would cause panic. "People don't get beds in hospitals. Even if they get beds, there is no oxygen at times."

- Positive and stranded -

Australia's severe measures shocked many people, including top cricketers playing in the lucrative Indian Premier League.

Star fast bowler Pat Cummins told Fox Sports the ban "added a bit of anxiety for a few of the Aussies" in India.

Former batsman and TV pundit Michael Slater, who fled to the Maldives and was joined by other Australians after the competition was suspended, tweeted that the PM had "blood on your hands".

"The panic, the fear of every Australian in India is real!!... come and witness dead bodies on the street!," he added.

It took Peter Dunoon 13 months to secure a seat on a repatriation flight but he never made it onto the plane.

The 66-year-old teacher, who is staying in a village spice shop in Karnataka state after running low on funds and wanting to avoid major cities ravaged by the virus, travelled to Chennai in mid-April for the flight but was then unable to secure an exit permit.

Seventeen passengers staying in the same hotel meanwhile tested positive. By the time Dunoon returned to the village, he too tested positive.

"There are 9,000 plus (Australians) here, so how many flights do they plan to have?" he told AFP.

"It seemed to take a very long time before there was even any real concern registered by the government for people stuck overseas."

Rebecca Brown, who teaches at a school on the outskirts of Hyderabad, said she was wary of the government's promises.

"Now that they've gone so far as to threaten us with jail time and a fine -- that I think broke all of our trust," she said.

"Every other country has managed to get their citizens home that wanted to come home."

grk/tw/mtp

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