With 9,000 Australians stuck in India and the federal government banning them from returning home, loved ones left waiting say Australia has failed them.

Pankaj Sharma is waiting in Perth for his wife Kim Soans Sharma to come home from Mumbai, where she is mourning the loss of her father.

“What’s the purpose of being a citizen in a first world country if you can be treated like anyone and everyone?” Mr. Sharma says.

“There’s a lack of leadership and their excuse is they have to look after 25 million people in Australia, so basically they’re saying if you’re in Australia you are a citizen and if you’re out of Australia you’re a second-class citizen.”

Pankaj Sharma explaining his disappointment toward his wife being stuck in India. Video: Grace Burmas.

Mr. Sharma says the federal and state governments lack the will to help people abroad and it taints the perception of Australian citizens.

“If the government would have been more sensitive and would have used the right words and would have sent the right message, that would’ve made a huge difference to people’s perception,” he says.

“Unfortunately, most of them [Australians] are not relating to the human side of this story, which is shameful.

“The ones who relate understand that if you have to go, you have to go … but that doesn’t mean you shut the doors.”

Mr. Sharma has been running his business alone for four months. Photo: Grace Burmas

Mrs. Sharma left for India in January when the nation’s COVID cases dropped to 20,000 people a day.

In the time she has been overseas, that number has multiplied to 300,000.

Mr. Sharma says people need to understand she knowingly left in the midst of a pandemic, but the emotional need to be there for her grieving family was stronger than her uncertainty to travel.

“The reason why most Australians don’t want people to come here with the virus is because of the fear of dying, which is ironic because most people who left for India, did so because someone is dying, and they want to be there,” he says.

A brief timeline of India’s second wave of COVID-19. Infographic: Grace Burmas.

Greg Ryan is the co-owner of The Rug Studio in Fremantle and is currently living in Udaipur in India’s north.

“I’m not worried about getting Corona because I’ve got lots of friends who have had it and gotten over it, but also two days ago my neighbour died, and he had had the vaccine … he was only in his 50s,” he says.

Mr. Ryan is content with his life in India but says knowing his government wouldn’t let him come home if he wanted or needed to, is unsettling.

“There are many Australians living in Udaipur who are happy to be here but not happy to be here right now.

“Not being able to come to your home is a violation of your human rights,” Mr. Ryan says.

“I’ve had a grandchild since I’ve been away, and I haven’t seen him except on Facetime. I’ve got another grandson who’s two-and-a-half and I haven’t seen him for over a year, nor have I seen my sons, so sometimes it’s not that easy.”

Mr. Ryan says being in India at this time of crisis is “sort of a paradox.”

“On one hand I’m living in a nice comfortable house and I’m in a bubble basically and yet going on around me is sort of like I’m in this b-grade dystopian movie,” he says.

“I had a COVID test to go to Varanasi … I went to the government hospital to get the test done and there must have been 400 people in the queue and there was one doctor doing the test.

“I waited for 4 and a half hours and it’s worse now.”

Statistics on the amount of Australians wanting to return home from India. Infographic: Grace Burmas.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. Sharma are in two different circumstances but both believe the Australian government should set up proper quarantine facilities rather than simply closing their doors.

“They should get their act together and get a quarantine centre that can handle everything,” Mr. Ryan says.

“You just can’t wipe your hands of your own people.”

Categories: COVID-19, Travel

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