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The Australian government’s drastic decision to temporarily stop all travellers from India entering Australia has me in tears almost every night, struggling to cope with the uncertainty of when I’ll see my husband again.
Before he departed Australia for India in March, I was stressed knowing that repatriation flights were few and far between. But he managed to convince both me and the Australian government (that granted him a travel exemption) that he had to go to visit and care for his mum, his only surviving parent, who is suffering from stage-four cancer. Knowing him, his kindness and conscientiousness, I knew that it wasn’t really a choice for him to be at his dying mother’s side.
The situation is emotionally draining for the 9,000 Australians who are stranded in India while it is ravaged by the deadly Covid-19 second wave, desperate to get home. To date, India has reported more than 19m cases and 216,000 deaths. I can’t even imagine the unbearable stress and fear of being in India surrounded by the countless stories of the lack of oxygen and hospital beds, the crumbling infrastructure and people dying on the streets.
India does not allow for dual citizenship, so it does not owe Australians like my husband anything – if they were once Indians, they have given that up to become Australians. What does it mean to be an Australian citizen? Is Australia a fair-weather friend, only there for you in the good times?
For Australian citizens stuck in India, the worst-case scenario is playing out in real time. What if India decides to prioritise its citizens’ health over others due to insufficient and crumbling infrastructure? What if India demands non-citizens leave the country or threatens them with prison sentences like the Australian government just did for its own citizens?
Like most other Australians, I don’t want to compromise the health of the community, but surely Australians can be allowed back via a safe process and the virus can be contained by isolation. In March, shortly before the government’s decision to exclude Australians travelling from India, just 1,065 people travelled into Australia each day on average, so the existing protocols did not allow a huge number enough to suggest undue burden on infrastructure.
Its decision to ban Australian travellers from India indicates the Australian government’s complete lack of confidence in its own quarantine system. While this may be justified, given the numerous quarantine mistakes, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Australia to fix its quarantine system than to deny its own citizens their basic human right to return home to their families?
Similar draconian laws and absolute bans were not considered when in the US and UK Covid cases were soaring only a few months ago. The US to date reported 32.4m cases and 576,000 deaths. The UK wasn’t that far behind, and a substantially deadlier strain of Covid-19, B.1.1.7, originated there. Why has a different approach been taken to Australians returning from India?
I have always found Australians to be warm, open and inclusive, and so this is the first time I have any regrets in choosing Australia as my home. Other governments are doing so much more to help their citizens – the US, in its latest health alert, asked its citizens to leave India as soon as it is safe to do so, and additional flight options are available for them. British and Irish nationals, and third-country nationals with residence rights in the UK, are arriving into England from India with the requirement to quarantine. These are fair and reasonable options that Australians stranded in India would welcome.
As for my husband, even if the borders were open, I know that he won’t return until his mother dies. At the same time, it is difficult for him being in India without any certainty as to when he might be able to return home. While the ban for travellers from India is temporary, for those stuck overseas “temporary” reads as “indefinitely”. For now, he continues to live among the Covid chaos in India, waking up at 3am daily to work Australian hours , while caring for his mum, who in addition to stage-four cancer now also has Covid-19.
Despite all these challenges, he is still an amazing husband from afar, calling me daily to check in, calming me during my frequent meltdowns. All I want is for both of us to have the certainty that he can come home to Sydney when he is ready.
There should be no barriers to Australians returning home. It is our right.
Source: The Guardian
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