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Stranded Australians file legal actions at the UN over inability to return home

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, March 29: Several stranded Australians have today filed actions against their government in the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva, claiming that it has arbitrarily breached their right to return to the land of their birth or citizenship. They say that the ‘caps’ on incoming flights have prevented them from returning, despite the fact that they are willing to comply with all necessary public health measures, including fourteen days quarantine in Australia. All have started vaccination programs, some are fully vaccinated.

Their petitions also point out that Australia has breached the UN’s International Covenant because they have no effective remedy – they cannot go to court to require the government to live up to its obligations to permit its citizens to return home. This is confirmed by Professor Kim Rubenstein, an expert on citizenship law, who explains in her evidence that because Australia has no Bill of Rights, any court action would be futile. The only hope is that the High Court may discover an ‘implication’ in the Constitution that citizens should have this right. However, this would need a test case taking 3 years and would be prohibitively expensive.

The right to return to one’s native land is regarded as fundamental in international law. Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia ratified in 1981, makes it absolute – any breach cannot (like a breach of the right to leave your country) be justified by other interests like public health or national security. The petition points out that the government is responsible under the constitution for quarantine arrangements but it has not provided money to the states in order to make more places available and has meekly accepted quotas that have prevented tens of thousands of citizens from ‘calling Australia home’.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has advised the petitioners, said: ‘International law recognizes 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. 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.”

The initiative has been supported by a group called ‘StrandedAussies.org” made up of volunteers affected by the flight caps. Its spokesperson, Deborah Tellis, said: ‘We are just a group of ordinary Aussies who have been left high and dry by an unfeeling government, and we are supporting these cases because they demonstrate how badly Australia is treating its own citizens. 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. 

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.”

The first petitioner, Alex, was born in Melbourne and has a BSc from University of Hawaii. He went abroad to take a specialist course in volcanology at the University of Hawaii and has been trying to return since March 2020, but his flights have all been canceled. He is in the process of being  vaccinated against COVID and needs to get home urgently before his US visa expires, in order to begin a master’s degree at Melbourne University.

The second petitioner, Jason, is an Australian citizen who holds a degree in microbiology from the University of Warwick and currently resides in New Jersey, United States where he works in the pharmaceutical industry. He and his Australian wife, Deborah, would like to return to Tasmania to be by the side of a close family member who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but have had flights cancelled. Both have also been vaccinated.

The third petitioner, Zeenat, grew up in Brisbane and graduated with a degree in medical imaging from the Queensland University of Technology, before moving to the United Kingdom. She, her husband and her seven-month old baby would like to return to family in Australia to be closer to loved ones but have been unable to secure a flight due to the travel restrictions. Zeenat has been partially vaccinated and when the second dose is given, ready willing and able both to purchase a flight and to undertake a period of quarantine.

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Release date: MONDAY 29 MARCH 2021

Contact information: media@strandedaussies.org

Note: A PDF version of this release is attached below

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