Australian girl, 5, reunited with parents after 18 months stuck in India due to pandemic

·2 min read
File image shows the first repatriation flight for Australians who were been stranded by India’s second way, which landed in Sydney on 15 May (Australian Department of Defence)
File image shows the first repatriation flight for Australians who were been stranded by India’s second way, which landed in Sydney on 15 May (Australian Department of Defence)

A five-year-old girl who was stuck in India without her parents during the Covid-19 pandemic has finally been reunited with her mother after 18 months.

Johannah, 5, a resident of Australia and her India-origin parents were visiting her grandparents in Kerala in November 2019, when the parents left her to stay with them for a while.

They could not have anticipated the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw many international borders closed around March 2020.

Despite repeated attempts by her parents, Drisya and Dilin, to bring her back through commercial and government-organised flights, all their efforts failed as flights continued to be cancelled and children under 14 were not permitted to travel alone as part of the repatriation programme.

Their long ordeal came to an end on Monday as Johannah boarded a flight to Sydney and she is now quarantining with her mother in Australia, BBC News reported.

“Oh my god, it was so exciting, it’s not something that can be described in words,” Drisya told the BBC of the experience of meeting her daughter again after such a long period apart.

Earlier reports said there have been 173 unaccompanied children from Australia stranded in India by the pandemic and the strict travel rules imposed by their two countries.

In order to bring Johannah home, the couple received help through a Facebook support group dedicated to Australians stuck in India, they explained. They got in touch with fellow Australians stuck in India and a couple – Linda and Joby – who were planning to move to Sydney themselves, offered to accompany Johannah on the flight.

“We got to know Linda over some weeks, and we trusted them,” Drisya said. “They both took care of my child, it was so nice of them, we would like to express our gratitude to them.”

Johannah is still yet to meet her father as only one parent is allowed to stay with the child in quarantine.

Australia’s tough restrictions left around 9,000 Australians stranded in India. This included over 200 minors, according to figures from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in June.

Australia was one of the first nations to close its borders in March 2020, barring all arrivals except returning nationals, residents, and people granted special exemptions. In May, the Scott Morrison government announced that anyone travelling from India - including Australian citizens - would be banned from entering the country, at the time seen as an unprecedented step.

However, the government eased down the restrictions on 6 June and allowed people escorting an Australian child back home from India if the child’s parents are in Australia.

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