After Australia Banned Its Citizens in India From Coming Home, Many Ask: Who Is Really Australian?

Valid questioning:

When Ara Sharma Marar’s father had a stroke in India in early April, she got on the first flight she could from her home in Melbourne, Australia to New Delhi.

She had planned to return to Australia, where she works in risk management at a bank, on May 14. But then her government banned her from coming home. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on April 27 that travelers from India—including citizens—were barred from the country. The government emphasized that anyone who tried to come home would face up to five years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

“It’s immoral, unjustifiable and completely un-Australian because, you know, Australia prides itself saying that we are multicultural, we embrace all cultures, we welcome everyone,” she says.

Morrison faced a furious backlash from many corners from the country—especially from Australians of South Asian ethnicity, many of whom said the ban was racist—and quickly backed down. On May 15 the first repatriation flight from India landed in Darwin. But around 9,000 Australians remain stranded in India and the saga has revived the debate about what it means to be Australian—a longstanding, at times acrimonious, national conversation driven by the country’s ever-changing demographics.

Today, there are more foreign-born Australians than at any time since 1893, when Australia was still a British colony. Migrants make up 30% of all Australians, and Indian-born Australians are the second-largest group. (British immigrants remain the largest foreign-born population, with people from China in third place). Immigration is now the main driver of population growth in several states and migrants are a significant driver of economic growth. But some immigrants say they aren’t always accepted in a country that once closed its doors to non-Europeans.

“Many Anglo-Celtic Australians still believe that we are but guests in this country and that to acknowledge us as equals they will somehow lose their Australianism,” says Molina Asthana, co-founder of advocacy group Asian Australian Alliance. “Does being Australian mean you have to be light skinned, blond, love your barbies, brekkies and beers?” she asks.

‘Fortress Australia’ strands citizens overseas

Several countries, including the U.S., restricted flights from India or tightened quarantine rules on travelers coming from the country as a devastating second wave hit it. But Australia’s total ban on arrivals from India follows a pandemic policy of imposing of some of the strictest COVID-19 border controls in the world.

Australia bans nearly all non-residents from traveling to the country, and those who are able to enter must quarantine for 14 days in a hotel. Caps on international arrivals have prevented tens of thousands of Australians from returning from overseas during the pandemic. The hashtag #strandedaussies has been used hundreds of times on social media, and some have started referring to the country as “Fortress Australia.” One group of Australians is taking a complaint against the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for not allowing its citizens to return home.

Nevertheless, the controls are very popular. A poll in conservative newspaper The Australian found that 73% of voters supported international borders remaining closed until at least mid-2022. That’s likely because the policies—along with swift, strict lockdowns when cases pop up—mean that the country has had remarkable success against COVID-19. With a population of 26 million, it has recorded fewer than than 30,000 coronavirus cases and just 910 deaths. Life appears normal. Employees have returned to their offices. Thousands of mostly maskless fans packed into a Melbourne stadium to watch the Australian Open in February and the following month saw tens of thousands of not-so-socially-distanced revelers attend the LGBT+ celebration Sydney Mardi Gras.

Authorities justified the blanket ban on arrivals from India as necessary to protect public health; India is facing a devastating second wave of COVID-19 and a variant first identified there—which scientists say is likely more infectious and better at evading human immune systems—is being detected across the Asia-Pacific. Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on May 7 that the ban was explicitly linked to Australia’s limited quarantine capacity.

But many Australians of Indian descent feel singled out because the Australian government has not barred citizens returning home from other countries with large outbreaks. “Why weren’t these steps taken when it was America or U.K.?” asks Sharma Marar, who believes that the government has failed all of its nationals stuck overseas. She says that she is suffering from panic attacks and having trouble sleeping as the result of the stress of not being able to return home.

Kim Soans-Sharma, who remains stuck in Mumbai, India after she traveled there in January following her father’s death, says the ban has made her feel “unwanted.” That’s something she has never felt in Perth, Australia, which she’s called home since 2013. She adds that vitriolic comments from some Australians on social media showing no sympathy for other citizens like her stuck in India have been hard to bear.

“At this stage, I’m not proud to call myself an Australian,” she says.

How Australia became an ‘immigration nation’

Australia’s rising diversity in recent decades follows the expressly racist White Australia Policy that prevented migration by non-Europeans for much of the 20th century. When it became clear that immigration from Britain couldn’t provide the necessary population growth, more migrants from continental Europe were allowed, and the policy was slowly eased after World War II. The first step towards dismantling it was made in 1966, when the government allowed migration based on what skills people could offer Australia, instead of race or nationality. The White Australia Policy was then formally renounced in the early 1970s, and the government officially embraced multiculturalism.

However, the topic of immigration has been used as a political football for decades, with some successive governments unsupportive of migration. Many who arrive in Australia are skilled migrants, and some economists say that the country’s 27-year recession-free streak would not have been possible without immigration. A report by the research institute the McKell Institute calls the country “the world’s most successful” multicultural society. “Australia has truly embraced multiculturalism following an approach of integration between the different ethnicities and cultural groups where the dominant and minority groups are expected to respect each other’s cultures,” it says.

There are some tensions, however. Concerns over immigration have sparked a nativist movement, including a right-wing populist political party with an anti-immigration platform that has had minor success at the polls. A 2020 report on social cohesion released by the Scanlon Foundation, a foundation focused on fostering social cohesion in Australia, found that a large majority of Australians think that having a multicultural society makes Australia better, but 60% of people agreed with the statement that “too many immigrants are not adopting Australian values.” The report also noted substantial negative sentiment towards immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In one 2019 survey, more than two-thirds said that Australia did not need more people. The same year, Morrison announced a cap on permanent migration at 160,000, a cut of 30,000 a year, to address crowding in cities that has increased real estate prices and caused congestion. “This plan is about protecting the quality of life of Australians right across our country,” he said.

Like in many places in the world, immigrants in Australia have faced racism as the result of the pandemic. The Asian Australian Alliance has received 530 reports of COVID-19-related racism since April 2020. When a COVID-19 surge hit Melbourne in mid-2020, representatives from a Muslim migrant community spoke out about being unfairly blamed. In March, Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Chin Tan called for a new national anti-racism framework to address prejudice against Asian-Australians related to the coronavirus pandemic and the legacy of “hatred” towards Muslims.

Asthana, of the Asian Australian Alliance, says the India travel ban is emblematic of the racism that migrants can face in Australia. “Whether it is overt racism or unconscious bias, most migrants have been at the receiving end of discriminatory treatment,” she says. “Only the communities change over time, from Greek and Italian to Chinese, then the Vietnamese, Indian and African and now back to the wider Asian Community during COVID.”

Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s former race discrimination commissioner, says that Australia’s multicultural diversity is not represented yet in its major institutions. “It’s not yet there among our leaders of politics, government, and business. Nor is it there among the faces you see in the national media,” he says. “So that can feed into a sense within our elite political, business and media circles that being Australian is still essentially being Anglo-Celtic or European.”

Other experts say that what it means to be Australian is shifting along with its demographics. “Australia is a settler country,” says Catherine Gomes, an ethnographer at RMIT University in Australia, with a “social and cultural identity, that keeps on changing. Those identities start to adapt, according to how demographics are also changing.”

But for some Australians, those changes aren’t coming quickly enough. Despite the lifting of the ban, Sharma Marar says she won’t forget being barred from coming home.

“I think the scars of these policies and what has been done in last few weeks,” she says, “will live with us forever.”

Source: After Australia Banned Its Citizens in India From Coming Home, Many Ask: Who Is Really Australian?

Coronavirus: Canada-U.S. border closure, other travel restrictions undermine our values

Overwrought in my view. As long as the measures are temporary and are phased out when COVID-19 is under control, Canadian values are not under threat.

Given the risk of the US imposing a unilateral travel ban, it was wise of the government to reach out and negotiate a bilateral agreement to avoid risks to supply chains and food security.

Not to mention, that is extremely difficult to maintain a different position politically when the rest of the world is taking action.

Moreover, the closed borders affect everyone, whether visible minority or not.

But of course, for some countries and political leaders, it fits into their xenophobia or anti-immigrant pressures:

Canada’s response to restricting access to the country by non-citizens has changed rapidly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, culminating with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally announcing a closure of the Canada-U.S. border to “non-essential travel” while still allowing food, goods and medical supplies to cross.

The effective closure of the border comes two days after Trudeau announced Canada would restrict entry to anyone but Americans. Now they too are included.

Although Canada was, in many ways, late among nations in closing its borders to non-citizens, it was still a surprising move.

Days before the border was closed for non-essential travel, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there was no evidence to suggest travel restrictions were effective and that Canada would not implement them. Trudeau stressed the importance of focusing Canada’s efforts on scientifically supported methods of slowing the disease’s spread.

In a matter of days, that stance of open borders and scientific evidence has shifted. It bears repeating that Canada is not alone. As the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic jumps from China to Europe, many countries have put up travel restrictions. These restrictions assume that viruses can be contained at ports of entry.

This is not true — and it is especially false after the virus is already present in the isolating country.

Travel restrictions and border closures

The World Health Organization advises nations against setting travel restrictions or closing borders as methods of combating the coronavirus outbreak. Restricting movement between countries that are already diagnosing cases is ineffective in offsetting an outbreak of the virus.

In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.” – The World Health Organization

For nations already caught up in the xenophobic politics of populism, however, this virus is understood as a migration problem. Some of our academic work explores how nations create in-groups by first creating dangerous outliers.

Governments have been handling border closures and travel restrictions in different ways, but we can see disparities in the ways that political parties and politicians work to convince electorates that they are legitimate authorities and in control.

Yet, in developed states with political factions suspicious towards migrants, closing borders and even restricting the travel of nationals may be attractive. For countries where public health infrastructures become inadequate, social structures become limited and alternatives are sorely lacking, closing the borders turns attention outwards.

When there is division within a country, the pressure to close borders may prove too great for even the most globally minded leaders. Trudeau’s initial hesitation to prohibit foreign nationals’ travel to Canada may be understood as a wish to prevent our policy from descending into isolationism. Yet, though Canada was among the last to restrict border crossings, we have done so.

The WHO and others have pointed out that travel restrictions not only divert resources from containment effort, they have real human costs in themselves.

For example, the world’s 10th largest economy, Texas, can expect travel and economic interruptions caused by limitations on trade between the U.S. and Mexico. Roughly one million jobs in Texas are dependent on cross-border trade with Mexico. These economic disruptions will render both Mexicans and Texans poorer, more desperate and sicker — all of which undermine efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Travel restrictions and nationalism

Closing borders is clearly not entirely about science; rather, travel bans are assertions of nationalistic and isolationist power.

President Donald Trump used his national address on March 11 to suggest how other nations had caused the threatening “foreign virus.” In that address, he instituted a ban on all travellers from Europe into the United States, excepting returning Americans. Noticeably, these types of restrictions — the “Muslim travel ban,” the end of Temporary Protected Status for some nationalitieshave been a key component of Trump’s larger isolationist agenda.

The 21st century may be the century of the migrant. The crises of global economic volatility, climate change, civil unrest, organized crime and international conflict have conspired to put a record number of people on the road. Mass movement across borders means that the relatively privileged native-born citizens of the Global North now live beside a large number of immigrants, and they do not seem to always like it.

Populism inside the pandemic

We had seen rising rates of hate crimes and anti-migrant sentiment before anyone had heard of COVID-19. In New York City, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed “disgust” in response to a rash of racist behaviour affecting Chinatown businesses.. Since the pandemic was declared, our worst racist instincts appear to be coming to the fore.

Protecting vulnerable people has always been and will remain consistent with Canadian principles of dignity and inclusion across lines of nativity, racialization and ethnicity. Canada has now moved away from that resolve, and into lockstep with the rest of the world. Rather than uniting across national lines to confront a common threat, we are shutting out the world in response to a threat more conveniently cast as external and foreign.

COVID-19 is a medical challenge, certainly.

It is also a social and political event whose cause, trajectory and long-term ramifications say more about our institutions than about the illness. Canada will learn important lessons in evolving health care systems, social inclusion structures and national resilience. After the pandemic, Canada will need to reconcile the inclusive image we worked to construct with the reality of our closed borders.

Source: Coronavirus: Canada-U.S. border closure, other travel restrictions undermine our values

Extremist travellers aren’t about to go away: Leuprecht

Christian Leuprecht’s contrarian view in support of  the proposed travel ban to countries where ISIS or other terror organizations are active:

Given the ease of communication and travel in the 21st century, the phenomenon of ideologically inspired travellers looking to join violent extremist causes is not about to go away. In fact, the ubiquity of social, economic and political conditions, especially throughout the Middle East, that fuel ideological extremism will likely mean extremist travellers will become even more prevalent.

Over the past decade, the United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions, binding on all member countries – including Canada – to stem the flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, including Resolution 2178 in 2014. Political stripes notwithstanding, the next federal government is bound to find itself under continued pressure to innovate measures to counter and prevent terrorist-related activity. In this light, Canadians stand to benefit from a more informed debate on issues of national security. No better time, then, to raise legislative proposals than during an election campaign and afford Canadians the opportunity to cast their lot on the issue at the urn.

Extremist travellers aren’t about to go away – The Globe and Mail.