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India returnees' banning breaches human rights: UN to Australia

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Geneva: The UN human right has expressed serious concerns over the recent penal measures, including jail term and huge monetary fines that have been taken by the Australian government against its citizens returning from India.

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights has asked whether the Australian government's controversial move to implement penalties of five years' imprisonment or $66,600 as a fine is consistent with Australia's human rights obligations.

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the office said that "We have serious concerns about whether the Biosecurity Determination – and the severe penalties which can be imposed for its breach – meets Australia's human rights obligations," reports The Guardian

The determination – criminalising the return to Australia of anyone who has been in India in the past 14 days – was put in place by the health minister, Greg Hunt, late last Friday night, using existing biosecurity laws, but has triggered a backlash.

Amid mounting pressure over its hard-line approach, including from within Coalition ranks, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, is scheduled to meet community leaders on Wednesday to discuss the ban that is blocking 9,000 people, including 650 who are considered vulnerable, from returning to Australia.

Scott Morrison and senior ministers have said they are acting in the interests of keeping Australians safe and have played down the prospect that the harsh penalties would actually be imposed.

The deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, said the prime minister had "made it quite clear yesterday that nobody's going to be jailed".

In April the UN human rights committee requested that Australia promptly allow the return of two vaccinated citizens from the US, as the body prepared to consider their complaints about the impact of Australia's strict caps on international arrivals.

Assisted by the leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, the citizens argue that the implementation of those caps clashes with the ICCPR.

Campaigners have previously described the situation as "dire" for a lot of Australians who were unable to return home, and say there is a sense of "losing hope".

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