More than 22,000 first-generation Australians have signed an emotional open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking for certainty on the opening of international borders, as they seek to be reunited with family overseas.
The letter, organised via the Parents Are Immediate Family advocacy group, argues that it is “abhorrent” that the government has not announced a specific plan to reunite families kept apart by closed international borders in its four-stage reopening plan.
“Our parents are not tourists or international students; they are not business visa holders; they are not celebrities coming here in ‘national interest’,” the letter said. “That reunification with this group of people has not been prioritised over the others is abhorrent.”
“We request a confirmation of at what point, within your four-stage plan to re-open, does family reunification occur?” the letter, sent to the Prime Minister’s office on the morning of Wednesday, 1 September, said.
The letter also urges the government to increase its current international arrival caps, which were lowered nationwide in July, and again, provide certainty on how overseas arrivals will be handled moving forward.
“We urge you to tell us when we are going to see our loved ones again,” the letter reads.
Parents Are Immediate Family is a support and advocacy group set up in the aftermath of the Australian government’s COVID pandemic response when international borders were first slammed shut, and exemptions for families were hard to come by.
“For 18 months we have been suffering in silence, carrying the burden of this pandemic on our shoulders without public acknowledgement of our pain from the government,” the letter said.
“We are giving birth and undergoing life-altering surgeries without any of our support people allowed by our side. We are forced to say our goodbyes and watch our parents’ funerals over video conference without being allowed to leave the country.”
The letter also suggests that the “ongoing trauma” of being kept apart from immediate family due to border closures is something that the signatories “will never forgive or forget”.
“This is long-term damage done to our lives and to the meaning of what it is to be ‘Australian’,” it read. “However it is in your hands to mitigate the damage now.”
You can read the letter in full below:
Dear Prime Minister,
Your press conference on 23 August has made it clear that the idea of zero COVID has been finally abandoned by the Federal Government, and once the vaccination milestones are achieved, we must learn to live with COVID like we live with many other infectious diseases.
You have also mentioned in your earlier public appearances that your goal is to reunite Australian families for Christmas.
These statements have obviously raised some hope among our community of first-generation Australians and Australian residents that perhaps this time you really mean “all Australian families”, and some have begun to hope the ongoing suffering of overseas-born Australians separated from their loved ones may eventually come to an end.
Unfortunately, while we may begin to hope, our reality is that we will not be reunited with our families until border policies allow it. Therefore, we request a confirmation of at what point, within your four-stage plan to re-open, does family reunification occur?
It’s about time you acknowledge that the pursuit of ‘zero-COVID’ over the course of 1.5 years has effectively created a two-tier Australia where those with families overseas (roughly 50 per cent of the population) are being treated as second class. And it’s your government’s “us vs them” rhetoric of not allowing any travel from “COVID-infested countries”, of “locking some people out to protect the community” that is to blame.
For 18 months we have been suffering in silence, carrying the burden of this pandemic on our shoulders without public acknowledgement of our pain from the Government.
We are giving birth and undergoing life-altering surgeries without any of our support people allowed by our side. We are forced to say our goodbyes and watch our parents’ funerals over video conference without being allowed to leave the country.
We are working in Australian hospitals, aged-care facilities, childcare settings, retail, construction, IT, logistics, and many other industries crucial to the Australian economy.
We are paying your six-figure salaries, and the salaries of those ABF officers declining our multiple travel exemption applications. We are watching foreign celebrities and athletes bringing their families into the country, while we are called selfish for wanting to see our ageing parents before it’s too late.
We want to be honest and open with you, this ongoing trauma is something we will never forgive or forget. This is long-term damage done to our lives and to the meaning of what it is to be “Australian”.
However, it is in your hands to mitigate the damage now.
Face the media and acknowledge what half the country has endured to support the other half. We are not asking you to apologise; we know this is probably too much to ask from you. What we request is a simple acknowledgement of our sacrifice.
We urge you to tell us when we are going to see our loved ones again. Presently there’s no place specified for family reunification in your reopening plan. Our parents are not tourists or international students; they are not business visa holders; they are not celebrities coming here in ‘national interest’. They are the people who gave us life, who raised us and who provide half your populace the most important relationships they will ever hold. That reunification with this group of people has not been prioritised over the others is abhorrent.
We also urge you to remove the reduced international arrival caps that were introduced following the National Cabinet meeting in July. Given the current rate of 1-2 positive cases a day among overseas arrivals, and the increasing rate of fully vaccinated travellers, we believed that these caps are not justified as part of Australia’s response to the pandemic. These arrival caps represent a political decision based on risk avoidance at all cost by some state premiers and put an additional burden on Australians struggling to return home. These caps are also preventing people with valid travel exemptions and genuine need to travel from entering Australia. This is unnecessary currently under current circumstances.
We hope you can do what is right this time.