Australia has made it illegal for anyone who’s been in India in the past 14 days to enter the country, including Australian citizens and residents desperately trying to escape a devastating health crisis. Anyone attempting to do so faces five years in jail and brutal fines.

In the opinion of GSTP, this is the most egregious and awful breach of trust between a country and its citizens during the pandemic, and a shameful way to treat humanity. I find it abhorrent, particularly, while other countries and private businesses fly directly into the face of the crisis to lend support to this loving nation.

Why so awful? Because if not for anything else, Australia already has robust protocols in place to stop importation of covid-19, with rigorous 14 day quarantines for all – well, except celebrities. Australia never took such steps as outbreaks swept Europe, the USA and other areas.

Australia Abandons Indian Citizens And Residents

Prior to the tragic rise of covid-19 in India, Australia already had measures in place to prevent the importation of covid-19. It’s not like people get to just walk in, and in fact it’s one of the most closed off countries in the world.

This is simply abandonment of citizens and residents and sends a horrible message to people around the world, who live, love or work in places other than their passport issuer or nationality.

Update: in response to international condemnation and backlash, Australia has ended this detestable policy.

Entering Australia During Covid-19

I’d love to enter Australia, I’ve wanted to all year. The country is enjoying life almost as it was, before the times when everyone became an infectious diseases expert on social media, and covid-19 ravaged the world. Sadly, I’m not allowed to enter.

I hold an American passport and am barred. Australia, fo the most part, has only allowed citizens to return home during the pandemic and does not allow travelers to leave, with the exception of a “bubble” with New Zealand.

All travelers face 14 days of supervised and monitored hotel quarantine at a great expense, which science says stops importation risk. Basically no on is going out into the Australian public after arrival, until experts agree they’re covid-19 free.

To the dismay of many, the country was already seen as duplicitous about the pandemic, making it extremely hard for citizens to return home, but incredibly easy for American celebrities to be granted entry exemptions, and also exemptions to the 14 day hotel quarantine. To many, this was and is shameful. Even the BBC covered it.

India Crisis: True Australian Shame

When disaster strikes, it’s often where people learn to appreciate their passport most. Direct flights may get banned, but great countries step in to help get people “home”, or create exemptions to make those who find their own way eligible.

Be it an environmental disaster or public health crisis, well organized countries go to bat for their citizens, sending planes, aide and anything else needed to make paying taxes and following the laws of a nation feel worth it. Note to Australia: this applies to all citizens and residents, not just ones of select pigmentation or origin.

It often involves large military transport and tremendous organizational efforts to rescue citizens from harms way, but it’s what makes a nation great.

While countries around the world selflessly fly supplies, aid and help into India at their own risk, including private companies like Virgin Atlantic which rallied around a group of Indian pilots to send help, Australia is abandoning its citizens and residents in India, setting a horrible precedent for the world.

They’ll face jail for trying to escape a crisis and help is not coming for them over the mountain. No Boeing C-17 Globemaster jets loaded with aid for India and seats to get large numbers of Australians in India “home”. Just abandonment in the simplest terms.

In my opinion, it doesn’t get any more shameful. But then again, for an Australia Government often accused of racism, sexism, misogyny and double standards, it’s probably just another day at the office. I’ll go ahead and say what I feel: it’s racist.

Australia never made it illegal for Australian citizens or residents to return “home” when tremendous waves of infection struck across Europe, the United States and other parts of the globe. On that basis, how can it not be racist, now that they have, just for India – stranding Indian-Australians, but not others?

Separated From Country: Not Ok

However necessary, travel bans have been sad enough throughout the covid-19 pandemic, but in each and every case, exemptions to any rules have always existed for citizens, residents and immediate family. If you want to return to your home country, you can. That’s always been an international standard.

My family in America had a health scare this year, and being in the UK, I highly valued and appreciated that my passport could allow my immediate family and I home at any moment, at the drop of a hat.

Like Australia, the USA and Canada have a ban on flights from India, but US citizens, residents, immediate family and a variety of other ‘essential’ or visa driven exemptions exist for people trying to leave India, so that no person with ‘right of return’ shall be separated from that right.

Seeing the way the US, and other countries have arranged repatriation transport for people when commercial flights weren’t even viable, gave me faith in the institutions of government, taxation and never abandoning a fellow countryman.

It just makes this Australia situation all the more despicable. Quarantine hotels with robust testing and safety protocols already exist. They managed to make them work for thousands of Australian Open participants from around the world, coming for the sole purpose of making money.

Yet, they can’t rescue citizens and residents from harms way, desperately trying to reach safer land during a time of crisis. “This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country,” offered Elaine Pearson, Director of Human Rights Watch Australia.

Lost Respect For A Great Nation

What’s the military for? What’s all the science in place at Australian borders and hotel quarantines for? What if there’s a great health crisis in Australia and everyone wants out? Should India and others then come to the rescue, after this?

I had great respect for Australia’s difficult decisions in getting the country to a nearly pre-pandemic state, but now temporarily find nothing but hate and vitriol for a country I’ve loved, which seems to have clear disdain for its Indian community.

While private companies and countries around the world send crews and planes in to help, Australia won’t even let people find their way home. At least, not without jail and fines.

Does Australia not value its Indian community, or understand the fact that Australians may work in India to provide for opportunity for their families? We’re living through truly ugly times. I send love and hope for better days to India, and shame to Australia today.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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54 Comments

  1. Thank you for using your platform to share this highly questionable policy and to call it out for what it is. This is just another reason why you continue to earn the trust of your loyal followers.

    1. What is any institution, without trust? Thank you, Samir. Right of return is a key tenet of citizenship and denying it at any point should give any citizen great pause about how they are valued by their country. It’s always easy to play dumb when it’s not “you”, less so when friends, loved ones, or “you” are the one. There’s always a way to help people return safely. Always.

  2. Thanks for such an open and candid piece – everything you said is 100% spot on. It’s also interesting that some of the Australian cricket team were able to get out of India just before the ban was announced.

    I’m Australian and currently working in the Middle East, I can’t even imagine what I would do in this situation. You can’t even go to another country as a non-citizen, your only hope would be to go back to Australia. But in this instance, the racist government has effectively sentenced 600 high risk Australian citizens in India to death, and the outlook doesn’t look great for the remainder of the 9000 citizens there if they were to get sick!

    Shame on the Australian government!!! Hope the international community can help to pressure the government to rethink it’s racist policy!

  3. Hard to understand the rage here. For quite a while the government has been subsidising Qantas to repatriate Australian’s, their families and other Australian residency holders from India. The supposed quarantine facilities aren’t quarantine facilities, they’re hotels not fit for purpose, hence the recent in quarantine spread of covid-19 that saw Perth locked down for 3 days because 1 person in a city of 2 million had it. The government has set no wiggle room to move in this and that’s what they’re working to, those overseas (myself included) bare the brunt of that.

    The majority of covid cases in the only bespoke quarantine facility in the country are from travelers originating in India. The issue of lack of suitable quarantine facilities is another story, despite having been down this road for 14 months.

    I can’t see why temporarily suspending access to Australia for those in India conjours such an excited response. I’m aware HK has taken similar action against their own citizens returning from high risk countries, and as recently demonstrated by the near 50% infection rate of one particular India to HK flight the quality of covid testing or reporting protocol must be queried. A similar case load landing in Australia would likely be very problematic to contain, even in quarantine, and therefore risk another city going into a snap lockdown, when we you say they’re currently living the free life.

    Finally, I’m aware of many celebrities of foreign nationality arriving into Australia for “work” purposes, but I’m not aware of any who haven’t gone through rigorous quarantine, either through government arranged facilities or sourcing and paying for their own inclusive of catering, security and the like. If you can point me to anyway who hasn’t quarantined for 14 days it’d be interesting to see, and make quite the news article in Australia as well

    1. So then attack the issue (quarantine facilities), not people who have a right of return. Australia’s subsidizing of Qantas is not material to this issue. What is, is Australia abandoning citizens, and disproportionately Indian-Australian citizens during a time of need. It’s awful, whether anyone else has done it or not. Again – if these people are put through proper quarantine, they don’t pose risk. Plus, if Australia was more accomplished with vaccine rollout, this would be less of a concern.

      1. Australia’s subsidising of Qantas to repatriate is material, as you accused Australia of abandoning their people. They have undertaken repatriation, including directly from India to the bespoke quarantine facility, until they deemed it too high of a risk. Something about the numbers isn’t adding up, and the correct thing to do is pause to investigate rather than carrying on blindly as so many other nations have done, with the cavalier attitude of some of these nations responsible for the death tolls being many times greater than they otherwise could have been.

        As stated, there is no proper quarantine, the likelihood of covid escaping quarantine has become more pronounced (or at least better understood) and it’s clear quarantine and the chain that supports it isn’t 100% secure. Until it is it makes sense to limit the amount of of potential cases, as they’re doing. The Northern Territory, where the only bespoke facility is situated has stated they’re close to capacity for medical handling of covid cases, despite having not had a single case of community transmission since the pandemic began. They do have 55 cases in quarantine however. They don’t won’t direct flights to resume until June.

        Australia’s vaccine rollout has been slower than ideal, of course not aided by the EU refusing to ship vaccines to Australia as the population wasn’t under immediate threat. A catch 22 for sure. One could counter if countries had just managed to eliminate the virus in the community in the first place (as Australia and NZ have managed to do) this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

        1. So you’re basically advocating for the illegal breach of citizen rights, such as right of return to home country (rather than leaving someone stateless) whenever someone deems suitable, and saying the world should all explore the isolationist policies of two remote Pacific nations? Let’s hope you or anyone you love is never caught out, then!

          Australia’s inability to properly manage quarantine facilities is its own problem, and its citizens abroad should not be made to suffer for this inability. Solutions may be expensive, but that’s why people pay taxes. Countries can’t just pick and choose when citizens have rights, and if they do, they may find many people with means repatriating to places where those rights are not invalidated.

        2. If the Indian Government refuses to grant an extension to a Visa for an Australian citizen ( passport holder ) and they must leave, what would you recommend they do Scoop?

  4. I agree with the Australian Government. Why put everyone at risk for the sake of a few. In the UK we have a growing South Africa variant. How, those coming from SA should have gone in to quarantine? Clearly they didn’t!

    1. Again… how is everyone at risk? If they undergo quarantine and testing, they wouldn’t be allowed to leave until sufficient negative tests over 14+ days are carried out. What scientific basis do you have for the statement “why put everyone at risk”, when these systems are designed to eliminate risk?

    2. Funny how we can call it the “UK” variant or the “South African” variant, but as soon as we mention “ChinaVirus” or “WuhanVirus” it’s apparently racist. I don’t get it.

  5. Thanks for this. Please also highlight Canada, which has made it illegal for its citizens in India to return directly to their own coubtry. They can only return by way of a third country, taking a fresh PCR test there. Not to mention all arrivals on Canada need to do a 3 day hotel and 14 day quarantine anyway. So this ban by Canada may be based on other reasons than medical.

  6. #StrandedAussies is a great social hashtag to follow to see firsthand what the Aus government have done. Citizens stranded abroad with no access to public funds, spending their life savings to secure a seat on an overpriced commercial route, only to be bumped off days or hours before departure because someone else could pay more. I’ve always been a proud Aussie, but experiencing this abandonment first hand has left me questioning.

  7. This article is totally on point and simply highlights Australian Government culture. The Australian Government is morally corrupt on so many levels, but this one is definitely a new level even for them. Come on Aussies you can do better than this.

  8. So basically you are saying that they should do what Canada did. We have been basically locked down for the past year and the covid variants causing havoc here thanks to all the infected travelers. The UK, Brazilian and noe the Indian variants. Didn’t just walked to Canada

  9. I’m Australian, I am based in Sri Lanka, I expect the Australian Government will be banning us Australians in Sri Lanka from returning very soon. But frankly, the mealy-mouthed, weak, panic merchants they call leaders, I don’t want to go back to what has become a dictatorship. And you are right to call this act of bastardry racism. It is nothing more, nothing less. Sheer, unadulterated racism. I just wish the mongrel dog leaders would therefore stop charging me the substantial taxes I pay in that place while I am not allowed to return. I sincerely hope the citizens of the world remember this when this is all over and give Australia an almighty punt.

  10. Agree completely, Gilbert. But as you can see even from some of the comments here, the bulk of Australians love this approach and are fully behind the government. So things are unlikely to change.

    I also cannot see a situation where Australia/NZ remove hotel / leper colony quarantine at any point in the next… what… ten years? They have decided to go for 0 Covid and given we will clearly have new variants emerging regularly (on which vaccines may or may not work perfectly), there is no way they’ll be able to sell anything else to their electorate.

    1. Funny, a close friend of mine married a VERY wealthy Aussie. They were able to secure permission to leave Australia to see family and friends in the UK and US, and will be doing their mandatory quarantine on return in their home, with ‘supervision’. You can’t make it up.
      Having said that, the UK government really isn’t much better-we are essentially living in a dictatorship and subject to the whims of a scatter-brained bottomless pit of neediness with the attention span of a hyperactive gnat. We all have whiplash from his constant U-turns and flat out lies.

  11. Sometimes you are very off point to me, but I am in complete agreement with you on this. I am so glad you wrote this. I cannot fathom what Australians in India are feeling right now. It makes me sick.

  12. Why you blemming Australia , when people travel to India isn’t there ban on non essential travel and now when things are bad in India you blame Australia, I know that people from Canada are going to India even do there is restrictions on travel from March 2020 don’t blame government.

  13. Actually, the reason Australia is doing so well with Covid is that it is being so tough and making very few exceptions. The boarders were closed to travellers from Europe and the USA at the peak of their crises… in fact that was at the height of the lock-down here, this time last year. Australia has excepted very few, mostly, and carefully, PRs or citizens being allowed home. We are now +12 months into this pandemic, and it is precisely that caution that has preserved the lives of the 27 million citizens who are in Australia. On every single occasion when any country has ever litter its guard down – or never really had it up, that’s looking at you USA and Europe – the results have been disaster. Both Australia and NZ have had repeated break-outs, all traced to those recently returned from overseas, and every time the severest measures to impose a lock down – even if only for a few days, has stopped the spread, and saved lives. India is no different – a few months ago blowing it’s own trumpet at the miraculous way it had avoided a disaster… now not so much. It is not ‘racist’ of Australia to impose every bit as severe a lock-out as Melbourne did a lock-down: this is a global pandemic, and all the evidence suggests that enabling the lazy ‘I know my Rights’ brigade to put their selfish selves first – ‘autonomy’ – is a disaster for the social justice of population. Exactly the same argument as with vaccination, that ‘it’s not about ‘You’ dummy, it’s about everyone… now get your shot’, for those Australians of whatever race and creed who are now ‘stuck in India’ and struggling to get home – it’s unfortunately not about you, it’s about all of us – here, well, safe. We’ve done our bit too, and you’ll have to play by whatever rules are restricting your return now… but what’s taken you so long? – you’ve had 12 months in which to return but chose not to and your now being treated like your a ‘next wave threat’? – that’s because you are. You made that not to come home every day for the last year – don’t now cry Wolf.

    So playing the Racism card Gilbert, is lazy journalism. You’re American you say..? Why not put your intellectual ‘muscle’ to tackling the USA’s many stupidities – including racism and partisanship – now, and before Covid. I’m sure you would love to ‘be in Australia’ by why would Australia want you? – you’re presently just a Covid risk! Again, the reason Australia has done so well is that it’s done the hard yards, it sucked down social distancing, furloughing, people going bust, testing and now immunising, and has been grittily determined in imposing on individuals liberties for the needs of the many, be they ‘all of Melbourne’, ‘birds is Sydney’, one of other State, cutting across the much-wanted Antipodean Corridor with the Kiwis, those trying to get back from countries worse affected earlier on, or seriously affected now. You’re the one playing the racism card when the reality is, viruses don’t play politics or respect borders, or race, gender or age – they will kill you just the same! So, find something else to comment on with regards to the pandemic – perhaps how it’s put the final nail in the coffin for American Exceptionalism, and the USA’s ‘Right’ to any moral high-ground, on any-topic, anywhere.

    You blew it.

      1. Gilbert, that was a petty and immature response to someone who happens to have a different “opinion” to you. If you want people to respect your opinions maybe you should show some respect for contrary positions, regardless of spelling and punctuation mistakes.

        There are enough “haters” out there without you becoming one…IMHO.

        1. Respect is a two way street , polite discussion or even enthusiastic debating can be a healthy thing for a society, unfortunately this has become a rare thing in Australia, much like the us .

  14. Well said Gilbert Ott. Totally agree with you!

    I for myself have had to suffer under this governments draconian laws.
    My mother passed away in Europe a few weeks ago. Needless to say I wasn’t granted an exit permit but even if I was I most likely wouldn’t have been able to make it back into Australia due to the heavily restricted numbers of people allowed back into Australia every week. If I was an sportsman, actor or with a link into the government I’m sure there would not have been an issue. I’m simply a normal everyday Australian.

    It is one thing to not allow me to exit Australia but to legally disallow an Australian citizen to COME HOME is just wrong on every level.

    For all those people out there who agree with the governments action, show a little bit of common humanity. We are not all the same and we all have different lives and circumstances. Try to imagine what it would be like if you were in a particular situation and what you would do?

  15. I’m an Australian citizen, by birth but I lost respect for Australia years ago and only go back when I have to , this really does show the value of Australian citizenship and especially the Australian passport, not much that happens in Australia shocks me anymore but this decision was a surprise even to me , absolutely disgusting.

    1. Quite frankly, this is a very ill informed take. Not everyone departed to India during the pandemic. Many Australians live or work in India, be it in the pharmaceutical industry, as a professional athlete, hotelier or any other profession under the sun. They are still as Australian as anyone else, despite where they may temporarily or permanently live.

    2. That’s one thing that I have learned about Australia and Australians these days, it’s everyone for themselves , no thanks , who wants to live in a community like that ?

  16. Scomo told all Australian’s at the start of the pandemic in January 2020 to “Come home now” They have decided to stay in India, so they stay in India until they have the spread of COVID-19 under control. We have a blessed lifestyle in Australia and we don’t want it ruined by people returning from India infected with COVID-19.

  17. Sometimes people have to make sacrifices. For the record I have travelled extensively. We are blessed to live in Australia and Scomo is protecting our country and lifestyle.

      1. Yes big sacrifices I know. They were told to come home in January 2020 but they elected to stay in India. Now they deal with their decisions so stop bagging out Scomo because they can’t get back into Australia .

        1. The message too Australian expats was to stay put if you could because it was safer than travelling, and Australia couldn’t manage quarantining large numbers of people.

        2. Not everyone could drop everything and head back to Australia. People own properties, have leases on properties, jobs to go to, children in school….do they just abandon all that and rock up in Australia and hope for the best? If they owned property in Australia and let it out while they were away, do they just evict the tenants without notice? What if they married a non-Australian citizen? Because Australia wasn’t letting those people in, so what then? Leave the wife and kids behind?
          I personally know lots of Aussies who were in the EU under the two year working programme who would have loved to head back, but couldn’t get a flight (go do the research-they sold out fast and the prices were astronomical) in time. Many are now dependent on friends and hand outs as their visas have run out, they can’t work and can’t get back full stop.
          Life isn’t black and white. The Australian government has behaved shamefully and they and the world know it. It was international pressure that forced them to back track.

  18. Gilbert,

    What do you think of the Deloitte report that says Australia doesn’t fully reopen until 2024? That seems in line with their “all or nothing” policy. Not judging, can’t imagine what its like to decide the fate of potentially millions of people, but given the reaction to India, it seems likely Australia stay closed for 2021 and possibly 2022.

  19. Great article, and completely agree.
    I’m an Australian Citizen, and I was refused permission to travel to Australia with my wife even though my Mother was in the Intensive Care Unit… Quite shocking really…

  20. Well said Gilbert.

    They didn’t do this when the UK, South Africa, Brazilian or Chinese outbreaks happened.

    Get better quarantine facilities, do it somewhere safer or even make it longer if needed. But abandoning your citizens from returning home just feels outright wrong.

  21. Bravo! Thank you for this insightful article. I am utterly disgusted at Australia’s repugnant policy. If it is not racist then I do not know what is. All Australians should be outraged and if they are not, then the country is in far worse shape than I thought.

  22. Well done Gilbert for having the guts to call out this practice for what it is! I don’t have any personal link to Australia or India but I would be horrified to be treated like that by my home country!

  23. This OP-ED deserves publication in all the major (Australian small minded media) who have pandered to the ‘Dumb Dumb’ narrow minded Right wing Australian racist opportunists’ who prey on and thrive in their new found ‘Trump Red Neck easy to adopt’ ethic of absolute lunacy!! I noted as well on this thread…Australians’ have done their bit….What a load of shit…And another who ignorantly attacks the USA for this that and the other in their response!!! Well to back up Gilbert and my own argument…I am an Australian born and bred Flight Attendant with 23 years experience based in Europe. I’ve definitely crossed more continents countries and regulations than all of these sofa warriors put together…. Australian, CabinCrew,23years Flying, #Gilbertisspoton

  24. Very well written Gilbert. You hit the nail on the head. Many Australians who’ve supported the Morisson Government’s move may not be happy reading this article, but the truth is always bitter.
    To the Aussies I’d like to say, “Take it with a pinch of salt, mate!”
    That’s what you call your fellow citizens and friends right? —-‘Mate!’ The famous Aussie slang.
    Such hypocrites! I just pray that you guys don’t switch places at some point in future. Karma is a bitch you know!
    While the rest of the world is adapting to the virus, Australians are in hiding. The border closures in Australia are not based on science but on fear. Don’t get fooled. The jailing and fining of citizens for wanting to return home is just one of the red flags of the Australian government. One has to start worrying when a democracy takes a dictator like decision, coz something’s not right here when a democracy talks of jailing its own citizens.
    Had a lot of respect for you Australia….It was my dream destination…. Shame on you now.
    I’m glad I don’t hold an Australian passport.

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