For the past 15 months, Melbourne mother Gill Harman has been trying to bring her two toddlers home from Punjab, India.
A three-month holiday in November 2019 turned into a lengthy ordeal, which Ms Harman hopes will end when repatriation flights restart after May 15.
“My children went to Punjab in November 2019 with my husband. He stayed with them for three months and came back alone in February 2020,” she said.
“My parents planned to come to Australia in March 2020 but the borders were shut and they couldn’t travel to Australia as they are not permanent residents.
Ms Harman travelled to India in March this year in a bid to bring them all home.
Since then, she has had one flight cancelled already and says communication from government departments has worsened since the ban came into effect on Monday.
“There was no communication about future plans, which made a lot of people anxious. I felt uncertain and still do because I don’t know if I will get seat on these flights or not,” she said.
The next step for Ms Harman will be footing the bill for return flights and quarantine at Howard Springs in Darwin.
“If you have to book for one person it’s fine but for families it’s a lot, I’m looking at $12,000 for flights and $3,000 for quarantine,” she said.
“I think they should build more facilities like Howard Springs in NT for the future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced there would be three repatriation flights before the end of May, with a focus on returning those deemed most vulnerable.
About 900 of the 9,000 Australians wanting to return from India are considered to be vulnerable.
Plans to resume commercial flights between India and the Northern Territory will be considered after next week while New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have expressed interest in accepting repatriation flights from India.
“What’s important is that the biosecurity order that we have put in place has been highly effective, it’s doing the job that we needed it to do,” Mr Morrison said.
Gold Coast Sikh leader and director of Covax Australia Mannu Kala said the Australian government needed to be more empathetic in its response.
On Monday, the Prime Minister warned those who attempted to return home from India could face hefty fines and jail — a move widely criticised for being “immoral and un-Australian”, as well as unconstitutional, according to lawyers.
“If you were in India right now and you want to fly back home, and you could die or suffocate without oxygen but the other option was to go to jail for five years, I’d pick jail every time,” Mr Kala said.
Mr Kala said he understood the decision to temporarily halt flights from India, but real solutions must be devised by the government and shared with India to support its response.
“We have managed the pandemic very well and we have many strategies to deal with COVID-19,” he said.
“I think those strategies — from testing to isolating and lockdowns — politically and diplomatically should be shared with our counterparts in India.
“Locally, members of Parliament need to come out and we are regularly meeting with the Indian community, organising vigils to give support and empathy towards our community and making sure we are all standing together in this.
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