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‘Desperate to return home,’ say Indian tourists stranded in Australia due to COVID-19 travel ban

The Bhathal family in Australia. Source: Supplied

Holed up indoors, anxious about their families in India, the financial hardship of an expensive stay overseas and the expiration of their visas looming, tourists stranded in Australia have no other pursuits except for worrying.

Pawanpreet Singh Bhathal, an Indian tourist, is currently stranded in Melbourne. 

“We came to visit Australia for a month. Our return flight to India was scheduled for March 22 but it got cancelled due to the travel bans in both countries. Initially, we thought the waiting time would be about one week, but it seems indefinite now,” says Mr Bhathal, who has to “keep hopping” from one house to another with his wife and five-year-old son.


Highlights:

  • Hundreds of Indian tourists are stranded in Australia due to the coronavirus travel ban
  • Faced with financial challenges, many are staying with friends and relatives
  • India's Ministry of External Affairs has established a control room to address concerns of citizens stranded abroad

“We feel embarrassed to stay in one friend’s or relative’s place for too many days. We are compelled by the circumstances to stay in Australia,” he adds.

Like hundreds of Indian tourists, Mr Bhathal is also stuck in Australia due to the coronavirus border closures in both countries. These days, they are virtually huddling up in groups created on Facebook and WhatsApp and are eagerly waiting for the day when they will be able to return home.

psb
Mr Bhathal with his son at Sydney's Opera House.
Supplied

Mr Bhathal, an employee of Punjabi University, Patiala, says there are several problems facing Indian tourists stranded in Australia.

"The money we brought in for a month has been spent. Recently, I got Rs 100,000 transferred from India, which comes down to $2000 in Australia. Also, it’s getting cold in Australia, and we are worried about the health of our five-year-old son. If any of us get sick, we will not have access to any medical facilities as tourists," he said.

While looking after his young family in Australia, Mr Bhathal, is also deeply worried about his elderly parents in Patiala.

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A Punjab government order for the state's deputy commissioners to register details of Indians stranded overseas.
SBS Punjabi

Last week, India’s Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting with the Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and chief secretaries of all states to chalk out a plan to repatriate Indian nationals stranded overseas.

To help those from Punjab, deputy commissioners of every district have circulated an e-mail address on social media on which people stuck overseas can register their name, passport number and contact details.

The Government of India is likely to contact these people and arrange their repatriation.

India's Ministry of External Affairs has established a Covid-19 Control Room which has received more than 10,000 calls and 30,000 emails till date, according to a statement issued by the ministry's official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.

"This control room was set up as part of the Covid Cell and has been manned 24x7 by teams from within the ministry since March 16," Mr Srivastava was quoted as saying.

Mr Bhathal had emailed India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and Punjab’s chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh to seek their attention. He hasn’t heard from either yet.

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People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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