Australians stranded overseas by Covid-19 restrictions file UN action against government

The National Cabinet introduced a cap on international arrivals to Australia in July 2020 to prevent the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed.
The National Cabinet introduced a cap on international arrivals to Australia in July 2020 to prevent the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (XINHUA) - Australians stranded overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic have filed legal action against the federal government with the United Nations (UN).

A group, called "StrandedAussies.org", said in documents lodged with the UN Human Rights Committee that Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government has "arbitrarily breached their right to return to the land of their birth or citizenship."

The National Cabinet - which is composed of Morrison and state and territory leaders - introduced a cap on international arrivals to Australia in July 2020 to prevent the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed.

The stranded Australian group said the cap has prevented them from returning home with airlines cutting flights to Australia and significantly increasing prices.

"International law recognises the strong bond between individuals and their homeland and no respectable government would impose travel caps to prevent, for over a year, its citizens from returning if they are prepared to do quarantine," Geoffrey Robertson, a lawyer advising the group, said on Wednesday.

"Both our political parties have, in the past, done what they can to help Australians overseas but Mr Morrison is behaving as if in a moral vacuum - he does not seem to care very much about the suffering caused to fellow Australians." Morrison in September promised to bring "as many people home if not all by Christmas".

At the time 24,000 citizens or residents overseas had registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to return to Australia.

However, as of late March the figure had risen to 36,206 - more than 4,000 of whom were considered vulnerable.

Deborah Tellis, a spokesperson for "StrandedAussies.org", said they were "a group of ordinary Aussies who have been left high and dry by an unfeeling government." "The government is responsible for quarantine and has a duty to allow its citizens to return and enter into it - it should force the states to admit us and provide for them to increase their quarantine facilities. What it must not do is to breach international law," she said.

"The damage it is doing to many stranded Australians is terrible - they are unable to get back to see dying parents or sick relatives, unable to return to take up jobs or start university courses. By going to the UN, we hope to highlight what an unfeeling government Mr Morrison heads."