Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Indian flight ban leaves Australians stranded, ‘helpless’ families divided

Harpinder Kaur Romana hasn’t seen her three-year-old daughter for more than a year.

The healthcare worker from the Melbourne suburb of Truganina weeps as she explains her daughter, Ashlyn, left for a six-week holiday in India with her grandparents in January last year.

Three days before Ashlyn and her grandparents were due to fly home on March 25 last year, India imposed a ban on international aircraft landing in the country for a week, to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In the same month, Australia closed its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents. Ms Romana, an Australian citizen who has lived in Melbourne for 12 years, said her parents, who are not Australian citizens, couldn’t bring Ashlyn home.

“We thought that she can go there and then she can come back, but it all changed,” she says.

Some 9000 Australians in India are trying desperately to get home. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that direct passenger flights between Australia and India would be suspended until May 15 because of India’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak. Of the 9000, 650 are classed as vulnerable.

“For a year I called airlines to bring my daughter home, but they wouldn’t because she was an unaccompanied minor,” Ms Romana said.

Ms Romana finally found an Australian friend to accompany Ashlyn home, and she was booked on a chartered flight on May 7. Her daughter had packed her bags and was counting down the days until she would meet her baby sister.

27/04/21 Jewel Topsfield/WA Today

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