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Australia’s COVID-19 Border Closures Separates Families of Migrant Workers   


Travelers wait in line at a Virgin Australia Airlines counter at Kingsford Smith International Airport, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, March 18, 2020.

Strict COVID-19 controls in Australia are separating families of migrant workers who have been stuck overseas since its international borders were closed. Temporary visa holders do not have the same rights to return to Australia as citizens during the pandemic.

“Scomo won’t let us come home and they say they don’t know how long it will take before we make it,” says a migrant Facebook song.

A song for Scomo — a colloquial term for Scott Morrison — from an American temporary visa holder. The Australian prime minister is being urged to let migrant workers stranded overseas return to their jobs, homes and families.

Hundreds of foreign workers, including those from the U.S., Britain, South Africa and Brazil, had temporarily left Australia to go on holiday, to study or attend funerals before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the government in Canberra to close the borders.

They have been left stranded away from family, partners and jobs in Australia.

Chloe Fletcher moved from England to Perth, but is separated from her sixteen-year old son, Taylor. He was in Britain studying for exams when Australia’s borders were closed and has been refused permission to rejoin his family.

“For any mother to be away from the child for that long the pain is unbearable. It is like every day it is hard," she said. "I don't understand what the actual boundaries are, what makes a compassionate case because there’s no actual rules or regulations, so we don't know what category we fit into.”

Australia closed its borders to foreign nationals on March 20. Authorities say decisions about who is allowed to return under special circumstances are made in the interests of public health.

Officials stress that shutting international borders has been one of the key factors in Australia’s ability to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Australian citizens and permanent visa holders are permitted to return but face a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel paid for by the government.

Australia has had about 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The vast majority of patients have recovered, but about 100 people have died from the virus.

Lockdown restrictions are gradually being eased across the country. Cafes, restaurants, places of worship and schools are reopening under strict hygiene controls.

But those desperate for Australia’s international borders to reopen face a long and uncertain wait.

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