Aggressive social media campaign aims to reunite Oz families torn apart by pandemic | India News


MELBOURNE: A number of families in Australia, including desi ones, who have been separated from their kin due to strict Covid-19 travel curbs have started an online campaign under which they are posting pictures of their loved ones along with personal stories on social media platforms and have set up a dedicated website to urge the government to help reunite them.
The families are also organising frequent “Twitter floods” where all of them tweet their requests and tag government handles at a pre-decided time and date. The campaign seems to be grabbing eyeballs — at least two senators raised the issue of families separated due to border restrictions in the parliament last week. Australia has kept its borders shut since March in the wake of Covid-19 threat.
On Twitter and Facebook, families separated from loved ones are using certain hashtags to share their stories, with many of their posts garnering hundreds of shares, likes and retweets. The most popular hashtags — #Istillcallaustraliahome and #removethecap — have been turned into websites with the same name to tell stories of those stranded.
Peiter den Heten, a digital products designer who started the website Removethecap.com on August 27, said he wanted to capture the experience of what it meant to be stuck overseas. “Within three days, 500 people had written about their ordeal,” said the 44-year-old, who is stuck in Germany while his family is in Sydney.
Heten got the idea for the website after he read in a survey by The Guardian that 65% of Australians wanted borders to stay shut. “I hope if they read real stories of actual people who are getting affected, they will be more empathetic,” said Heten.
The same thought prompted Melbourne-based software engineer Kalaam Vamshii to start a photo campaign on Facebook last week. He has helped share stories of 50 families so far. “I want to drive home the point that the separation is taking a mental toll on families.”
Manoj Kulkarni from Melbourne and his wife Sneha agreed. Their five-year-old son stuck in Bengaluru with his grandparents since the past six months has stopped answering their phone calls. “During our last call, he told us he will speak to us only when he sees us,” said Kulkarni.
While citizens and permanent residents are unable to return due to lack of availability of flights, temporary visa holders need to apply for exemptions to travel. It took Alex John, a registered nurse from Newcastle, over two months and several calls to the department of home affairs to get travel exemption for his family to travel to Australia so he could be reunited with his 10-month-old daughter.
According to estimates by the department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT), over 18,000 Australians are stranded overseas since the border closures in March. TOI had reported last month that 8,000 residents of Australia have been stuck in India.
Yashasvini Nagampalli in Hyderabad, who shared the story of her six-month-old daughter online, said her father is yet to hold his child in his arms. “I was in Hyderabad and my husband was to come back from Melbourne where he is a researcher at Monash University for the birth of our child in March. He is supposed to take both of us to Australia but can’t due to border restrictions,” she told TOI. Monika Chennupati shared a similar story. She, too, is away from her husband and stranded in Hyderabad with her son who was born last August.
Senator Nick McKim recently tabled a motion in the parliament to allow temporary visa holders ease of travel. His motion was rejected, but the senator has approached the Australian Border Force Commissioner. In an email to an affected Indian family, the senator said that the commissioner had agreed to “review the guidelines in relation to families”. Penelope Wong, another senator, also moved a motion in the parliament on September 3 to take urgent action to help Australians stranded overseas.
A spokesperson from the department of foreign affairs and trade said the government was providing additional support to Australians most in need overseas. “We continue to explore options to help Australians access flights on a commercial basis, and our network of embassies and consular posts continue to provide up-to-date advice on local conditions and available flights to Australia,” he said.



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