Calling it a tough decision for the Australian government, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says Canberra is “devastated” to take a call on completely blocking all flights from a close partner like India for the short term.

The Australian government today announced a snap ban on flights from India until May 15, in a bid to contain its coronavirus infection via returning travellers from the South Asian country, where a record surge in COVID-19 cases has been recorded over the past few days.

Highlights:

  • Tough decision for Australia to ban flights from India, says immigration minister
  • Government’s top priority is to protect Australians here and those stranded overseas: Alex Hawke
  • Temporary visa holders and international students need to wait much longer to return

The second-most populous nation of the world witnessed a slight dip in COVID-19 cases on 27 April for the first time in six days but recorded more than 323,000 new cases and close to 3,000 deaths, nevertheless.

“Our thoughts are directly with India today and there are so many people suffering in India right now and we are very conscious of that,” Minister Hawke told SBS Punjabi in a telephonic interview.

Australia comes first:

Addressing the concerns of stranded Australians, Minister Hawke says the government’s topmost priority is to protect Australia.

“Our first priority has to be to protect Australia and our second priority is, obviously, to help countries like India and help people who are dying and that is our second priority. Beyond that, then, we are trying to help people who are stranded and then people in our regions,” he elaborated.

The decision means that nearly 9,000 Australians who are currently stranded in India – 650 of those considered vulnerable – now have no way of returning home until further announcement about flights.

The ban also applies to indirect flights from stopover cities such as Doha, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur besides the government-organised repatriation and other commercial flights.

“We are very sad to see that a great country like India, who did so well in the first wave, is now suffering so much in another wave and that’s why we have announced we are providing masks, ventilators, gowns, goggles, gloves, face shields,” the minister added.

Impact on temporary visa holders and international students:

Besides Australian citizens and permanent residents, thousands of temporary visa holders also remain locked out of the country, many of whom are crying foul, claiming the Australian government has abandoned them in a time of crisis.

Acknowledging their plight, Minister Hawke says the “difficult, dangerous and upsetting” situation in India has made it impossible for the country to consider the concerns of visa holders.

“We want to return people to Australia and we need our temporary visa holders back in Australia. We’d love that to happen. But it simply isn’t possible, we have got a severe outbreak, like we do in this wave in India,” he said.

Asked if an exception could be considered for Indian international students, Minister Hawke said Australia is keen to facilitate their return but wouldn’t be able to do so until the situation improves in India.

Impact on visa processing:

Minister Hawke says visa processing has been impacted by the pandemic in many ways, but he does not see this decision having an effect on processing times for applicants from India.

“The pandemic has already impacted the processing times in several categories in many different ways, just for practical reasons. But, not specifically, I think we’ll continue to function normally in relation to visa processing,” he says.

Is India being singled out?

The travel ban has raised concerns amidst the Indian-Australian community. Many members of the community believe the restrictions could expose them to racist attacks and social stigma.

Reaffirming that the decision to impose a travel ban has been taken to protect Australians, Minister Hawke assured that this is “Australia’s way to help India in a time of crisis”.

“I just say that Australia had always had an excellent relationship with India, and we are very close. It’s our highest source country for migrants. Now, we have a very successful migration. As minister for immigration and multicultural affairs, I am very close to many members of the Indian Australian community, all through my electorate in Western Sydney, and we are on their side and we are going to show we are on their side and we are going to make sure we get through this together,” he concluded.

Mr Hawke says that Australia has not yet “formally” identified any other high-risk countries besides India.

Source: https://www.sbs.com.au/language/english/audio/australia-s-immigration-minister-addresses-concerns-amidst-india-flight-ban-as-covid-19-cases-explode?fbclid=IwAR2Ny5JYvewaMCPXl_UB1d3nN2EBkz6KCuJHWj7T8iojfE7kiPGKHVVWskI

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