Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a ‘pause’ in flights, blaming escalating cases in people coming back from India and going into Australia’s hotel quarantine system.
He said the halt will allow quarantine facilities to reduce cases before allowing more people in.
“[Cases] went from 90 the previous week to 143,” Mr Morrison said.
But it’s a new blow for the 9000 Aussies – 650 of whom are vulnerable according to Foreign Minister Marise Payne – battling for over a year to get home.
Left before pandemic, now trapped for 14 months
Sukraj Singh, 36, who lives near Cairns, Queensland became an Australian citizen last year.
He left Australia on February 27, 2020 – a month before the pandemic and resulting travel ban – to get married in Punjab.
He’s been trying to get home ever since, but has had four flights cancelled due to Australia’s strict flight caps which allow just a few thousand people in per week.
And while there have been repatriation flights backed by the government, those, as well as commercial options sell out instantly,
He said the banana farm where he works is desperate to get him back to work too.
He still has to pay rent in Australia, but has had no income for 14 months.
“It’s hard for me to survive, no job, no money,” he said.
“My problems are beyond description. It’s very hard.”
He has also had coronavirus but has now recovered.
He said the flight ban has left Aussies there with little hope.
“It give us more stress, more tension, we are suffering a lot.”
Dad alone in Melbourne, wife and two children stuck in India
Indian-born IT consultant Raja Koushik, 34, was sponsored by a well-known firm to come to Australia in 2017 after previously living in the UK.
His youngest son was born in Melbourne, and the family’s application for permanent residency is in process, but delayed due to the pandemic.
He and wife Saranya, 31, and children Shravani, nine, and Rudra, 18 months, left for India on March 7 to see family and do traditional ceremonies for Rudra.
Mr Koushik said amid growing news about coronavirus he even phoned Victorian authorities to check it was okay to travel – but was simply told to wear masks on the flight.
When news came that the border was about to close, he got on a flight alone, as he was was worried about travelling with children, when little was known about the disease.
He thought things would ease within months – but he has been alone in Melbourne ever since.
His family haven’t even attempted to get a flight, as their PR application is not finalised, so they need an exemption to return.
That’s despite his son being born here and the couple being married.
It has been refused twice.
Now flights are banned there’s little hope on the horizon.
He said the family’s mental health is suffering, and his daughter is missing school.
He is too upset to sleep in the couple’s bed, so lies on the couch every night with his dog.
“I feel helpless,” he said.
“A lot of us immigrants come to Australia in search of a better future. Some amount of support would be good.
“I missed my son’s first birthday. My son doesn’t even know me now.
“It’s been super hard on us as a family.
“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s complete darkness at the moment.”
He called for Australia to look at how it can get people home – especially with many in the rest of the world now vaccinated, including his wife.
“Yes, the numbers in India are scary,” he said.
“Purely from my perspective, the government can set up rules, like only vaccinated individuals are allowed to come back, COVID tests done, then you are allowed to board the flight,” he said.
When announcing the pause in flights, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the fact vulnerable Australians could die while trapped in the nation.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and it’s one that’s gripping the world,” he said.
“That is the nature of a global pandemic. That is why we are repatriating Australians from India.
“I don’t see this as a problem that we’re trying to solve, I see this as a group of people were trying to help.
“We don’t think the answer is to forsake those in India and shut them off. That’s not what our government is going to do.”
Five-year-old separated from parents
Johannah is currently in India with her grandparents while her parents are in Sydney.
Her mum Drisy Pathikkal Eldo is worried her daughter will now be locked out of the country after Australia closed its border.
“Every day I talk to her at least four, five times… but it’s nothing like having the feel of her, having her, touching her,” Drisya told 9News.
“I don’t think many words can explain this feeling.
“And it’s not just my child, there are so many minors who are stranded in India, just like my child.”
One in 30 Australians are of Indian heritage.
According to the ABS, Indian is the second most common background of Aussies born overseas – a total of 721,000 people.