Australian government accused of racism over threats to imprison travelers from India for five years
May 03, 2021 at 07:37
(CNN) — The Australian government has been accused of racism after threatening five-year prison sentences for citizens who breach a temporary ban on travel between India and Australia.
In a statement Saturday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said anyone who ignored the new restrictions would face five years' imprisonment, a fine of $66,600 or both.
"However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level."
In the past seven days, there have been 139 cases of overseas acquired Covid-19 cases confirmed in Australia.
No similar measures were put in place at the height of the Covid-19 epidemics in the UK and the US.
The ban on arrivals from India has faced strong opposition from Australia's Indian community , human rights advocates and even members of the government itself.
Related content Travel to Australia during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go"We should be helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them," he said.
Around 9,000 Australians in India are registered with the government as wanting to return to Australia.
"I can't believe we would impose such a travel ban on white Australians fleeing from, say, England," he said.
In a statement Saturday, the Australian Human Rights Commission said the travel ban and criminal sanctions raised "serious human rights concerns," and called for the Senate to review the new measures immediately.
Speaking on local radio on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision had been taken "in the best health interests of Australia."
He said the powers would be "used responsibly" to enforce the block on arrivals from India, to ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system.