The federal government has made it temporarily illegal for Australians to return home from India, in a move that has been slammed by human rights groups.

SBS reports that the decision follows the sly return of two Australian cricketers from India via an airport in Qatar. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced this morning that travellers who have visited India within two weeks of their proposed arrival in Australia would be banned from entering the country under a “temporary pause” until May 15.

The decision is reported to be an emergency determination under the Biosecurity Act, and is apparently based on health advice to the government. It will come into effect at 12:01am on Monday. Anyone violating the determination could face a $66,000 fine, or five years in jail.

Hunt said in a statement that “the risk assessment that informed the decision was based on the proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia who have acquired a COVID-19 infection in India.”

There are about 9000 Australians in India who have indicated to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that they want to come home.

According to SBS, the international NGO Human Rights Watch has immediately slammed the Australian government’s decision as an “outrageous response”. Elaine Pearson, the HRW’s Australia director, said in a statement released today:

The government should be looking for ways to safety quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments for people who are facing desperate conditions and simply trying to return home.

India is currently in the grip of a devastating second wave of COVID-19. The latest figures, from April 29, report 386,555 new cases, and 3498 deaths in that day alone.

Meanwhile state leaders are pressing the federal government to provide purpose-built quarantine facilities to take pressure off the hotels that are currently being used to house returned travellers – the argument being that hotels are not sufficiently designed to stop infection passing between people housed there.

Source: SBS
Image: Getty Images / Puneet Vikram Singh