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Australia Urged to Ease COVID-19 Border Controls

People walk around the waterfront of at Campbell Cove in Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2021.

More than 70,000 people have signed a petition urging the Australian government to ease COVID-19 entry restrictions on foreign-born parents of Australian citizens, who are allowed into the country only on compassionate grounds. Campaigners argue the rules are having a “profound impact” on family relations and mental health.

Foreign-born parents of Australian citizens are not considered to be “immediate family” under the law. They need an exemption on compassionate grounds to be allowed into the country under strict COVID-19 border measures. Campaigners argue that few cases are approved and that the regulations should be changed because families have been separated and children have not met grandparents.

Celia Hammond, a member of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Australia’s Federal Parliament, from the governing Liberal Party, told the House that parents were a key part of an emotional support system for many immigrants and their families.

Kateryna Dmytrieva has tried unsuccessfully to bring her mother back to Australia from Ukraine.

“My mum left on the second of March 2020 for what was supposed to be, like, a three- to four-week trip to Ukraine,” she said. “Nothing was indicative at this time that the borders would be closed forever. So she left and she never returned, and I applied for [an] exemption five times and the answer was just ‘Not exempt.’”

The petition has been presented to the Parliament in Canberra and is awaiting a response from the government. Australia’s home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, has up to 90 days to respond.

Australia banned most foreign nationals more than a year ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Citizens returning from overseas face 14 days in mandatory hotel quarantine, but capacity is limited. The government says it probably won’t be safe to reopen international borders until the middle of 2022.

“It is not one day the borders are open, one day the borders are closed,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “That is not how it works. There is a sliding sort of scale here, and we are working on the next steps. Now, it is not safe to take those next steps.”

Critics, though, say that is far too long to wait and that Australia’s isolation is not sustainable.

A recent newspaper poll showed almost three-quarters of Australians want to keep international borders closed until at least the middle of next year.

Australia has recorded 30,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, and 910 people have died, according to the Health Department.