An Australian has died of coronavirus in India, three days after the federal government’s travel ban made it temporarily illegal for citizens and permanent residents to return home from the COVID-ravaged country.
Sydney woman Sonali Ralhan is heartbroken, saying the her father was “abandoned” by the Australian government as he died of coronavirus in India.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison posted to Facebook, Ms Ralhan, an Australian citizen, said she contacted embassy officials in India a few weeks ago with “great hopes” they would help her parents, long-term residents of Australia, return safely home.
Instead, within weeks she would be mourning her father’s death.
“I write to you with so much anger brewing inside me,” she wrote on May 6.
“I am an Australian citizen and highly disappointed to be one today.
“What nation disowns their own citizens? (It) is a matter of wonder for the entire world.”
Ms Ralhan says her pleas for help were largely ignored.
Instead of offering any real assistance, consular officials only called Ms Ralhan’s mother periodically to “note down her distressed condition”.
Ms Ralhan said her father had been a permanent resident of Australia for more than 10 years and travelled back and forth between Australia and New Delhi, where he managed a hotel.
His frequent business travel prevented him from spending enough time in Australia to qualify for citizenship, but planned to apply. Ms Ralhan, her brother, and her mother already qualified and are Australian citizens.
His daughter is now calling for the federal government help repatriate her mother, who is dealing with her grief isolated from her children and her community in Australia.
“All I have left is my mother, who has been abandoned by her own government of Australia, with no way to come back to her children.
“We all want to cry our hearts out, but we are saving them for when we are all together again.
“With your current actions, there is not much to expect, but all I ask is to bring my mother home and gather the broken pieces of our souls together.”
India reported a record one-day rise in COVID-19 deaths as cases surged by more than 400,000 for the third consecutive day.
India’s health ministry on Saturday reported 4187 fatalities in the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to just under 240,000.
Cases rose by 401,078, increasing the pandemic’s total to 21.9 million.
As a result of the escalating crisis, the Australian government banned flights from India and announced anyone – including citizens – who attempted to defy the new rules would be hit with fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both.
More than 9000 Australians are in India registered as wanting to return, 650 of them registered as vulnerable.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Friday extended her sympathies to the family, who she did not identify.
“Let me extend my sympathy, and that of the government, to the family of this person and to so many families that we know are dealing with what is an extraordinary challenge, with infection rates surging,” she told 2GB radio.
“There are very many families dealing with this challenge.”
The Opposition said the government had been shown to be ill-prepared for the surge of cases in India.
“We should have had our quarantine system prepared so we could get Australians home,” Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth said.
“We should not have come to this where we were not prepared and did not have a plan to get our citizens abroad out of harms way.”
Labor has also attacked the government for not doing enough to repatriate stranded Australian children, after officials confirmed there were 173 minors in India officially classed as “unaccompanied”.
Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, on Friday told a senate committee DFAT was providing assistance to the family of a permanent resident who had died in India but had not yet confirmed the cause.
However with the daily infection rate in the country being “greater than the population of Canberra”, he said he did not believe “anyone can put hand on heart” and say no Australians were among the dead.