Shocking number of Australian children stranded overseas

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Four hundred and thirty-eight unaccompanied Australian children are still stranded overseas due to Covid-19, a parliamentary committee heard on Friday.

Labor senator Kristina Keneally lamented a case where three-year-old triplets were stranded in India, unable to return home without a blood relative.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has advised (the parents) that it would need to be a blood relative and therefore the sister-in-law would not be allowed to accompany the triplets home,” Senator Keneally told the committee on Friday.

The triplets are among 191 Australian children stranded in India.

India is one of the worst-affected countries in the world by Covid-19, with 31 million cases and about 422,000 deaths.

The committee was told 84 children had been brought back to Australia from India via commercial flights since May 19.

But DFAT International Security, Humanitarian Consular Group deputy secretary Tony Sheehan confirmed 438 unaccompanied Australian minors were still registered the department as being stranded overseas.

“The way we identify them is we get a birth date (younger than 18) and a person where they’re not part of a family overseas,” Mr Sheehan said.

Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram said exemptions had been granted in the past for guardians to accompany Australian children home.

But Senator Keneally pointed out that in an email to the parents of the triplets stranded in India, DFAT said only a “parent, grandparent or sibling” could accompany an unaccompanied minor back into Australia.

“Are you sure that you don’t have a rule that says that the person must be a parent, grandparent or sibling?” she asked the committee.

Mr Sheehan replied that he could not give a definitive answer but would be “look into” the triplets’ case.

The committee outlined that 18 repatriation flights were planned for the coming month, however did not specify whether any of those flights would contain unaccompanied minors returning to Australia.

Qantas flight rules dictate that children aged 0-4 are not permitted to travel as unaccompanied minors under any circumstance, while children aged 5-11 are permitted to travel alone only if their flight is less than four hours.

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