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Thousands of Australians have been separated from their families since international borders closed and the national children’s commissioner is urging the Government to reunite them as quickly as possible.

Dec 10, 2020

New national children’s commissioner Anne Hollonds has urged the Federal Government to prioritise cases involving Australian children who have become separated from their parents due to international travel restrictions.
Key points:

  • The national children’s commissioner says she is concerned for the welfare of families stranded overseas
  • Gershom Ramazan has been stranded in South Africa after the borders closed, and his returning visa has expired
  • DFAT maintains its highest priority is helping vulnerable Australians overseas

More than 39,000 Australians remain stranded overseas as the Prime Minister comes under pressure from the Opposition over his wish in September to “get as many people home, if not all of them by Christmas.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission has now received a number of complaints from Australian families where children have been separated from one or more parents.
For the first time since assuming her new role, Ms Hollonds told 7.30 she is concerned for the welfare of families stranded overseas.
“These situations are just heartbreaking,” she said.
“It’s gone on for so long that there are many families I know, many parents as well as children who are suffering because of the international lockdown.”
Entry into Australia remains a bottleneck due to the pandemic with 6,700 international arrivals allowed a week.
Ms Hollonds, who is also a psychologist, said that as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia needed to adhere to its obligations to keep families together.
“We should be trying to reunify families as expeditiously as we can,” she said.
“The longer that this goes on, the more likely it is that there will be negative effects on children, so it would be my hope that these cases where a child is separated from a parent or parents is that these cases could be prioritised.”
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DFAT maintained its “highest priority at this time is helping vulnerable Australians overseas, including Australian families and children.”
Family milestones missed
For nine-year-old William Ramazan and his 7-year-old brother Eli in Adelaide, major milestones like birthdays have come and gone without their dad Gershom, who is stranded in South Africa.
Gershom has been waiting nearly 80 days for his returning resident visa to come through.(Supplied)
As a businessman, Mr Ramazan travels overseas for work and he became stranded when the borders closed.
“Christmas is on the horizon and I’m not sure if I will be able to see my family before then,” he told 7.30 from Johannesburg.
“Unfortunately [my] fate lies in the Australian Government’s hands.”
On top of facing cancelled flights, his returning resident visa has expired and he’s been waiting for months to have it renewed.
“He won’t be allowed to come back into the country until that visa is approved,” his wife Katie Ramazan told 7.30.
“We’re now sitting on about almost 80 days waiting for that to come through.”
Katie Ramazan says her children have been asking difficult questions about when their father will be coming back.
Their two boys are full of difficult questions: “When can Daddy come back? Will he really be home for Christmas?”
“It breaks my heart to have to keep telling them to hang in there,” Ms Ramazan said.
“I put William to bed and it was the first time he said, ‘Mum, is he really going to come?’ and it just hit me that it’s time to tell him that it’s not going to happen.”
Katie Ramazan says it breaks her heart having to keep tell her children to “hang in there”.(Supplied)
While the Government has expanded quarantine places by opening the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin and organised charter flights to major cities around the world, it has not been enough to match the huge demand among Australians trying to return home.
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In light of the Prime Minister’s hope that all stranded Australians would be returned by Christmas, Ms Ramazan said the Federal Government should have done more.
“It is really disappointing because I feel like nothing ramped up in time for Christmas, the caps should have been increased a lot sooner,” she said.
“It just doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the amount of people that are stuck.”
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