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18 June, 2021

Separated by COVID

THE separation of families caused by Australia’s strict border protocols as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense heartache for millions, including Cairns locals Luke Smith and Chiara Chen.

By Tanya Murphy

Luke Smith, Chiara Chen and their twin daughters Rosie and Gracie.

Luke is an Australian Citizen and so are the couples’ twin daughters Rosie and Gracie Smith, born in Cairns in July 2020, but they are growing up without knowing their grandparents, as Luke’s parents live in England and Chiara’s live in Taiwain.

What’s more, the family of four have spent the past nine months sharing a single bedroom in the home of another young family after the pandemic slashed Luke’s income in the tourism industry and threw them into the middle of the Cairns rental crisis.

Luke and Chiara are among more than 65,000 people who have signed a petition set to be presented to Parliament this month, calling for parents to be placed on the exemption list to enter Australia.

“A lot of people who are involved in this petition are angry because you’ve got tennis players and celebrities, people like film stars, coming in with their families, and they’re getting exemptions to come here,” said Luke.

“Meanwhile, people who actually need help or want to see their family that they haven’t seen for years are not allowed to have their parents come into the country, even if they have been vaccinated and quarantined.”

Under Australia’s current restrictions, parents are unable to travel to Australia to be reunited with family because they are not classed as ‘immediate family.’

Similarly, Australian citizens and Permanent residents are denied the right to leave the country to visit family, unless for a minimum of three months, however, most have jobs and responsibilities making this timeframe unrealistic or
impossible.

Luke and Chiara said all they wanted was for their parents to be allowed to come to Australia to help them out.

“When Chiara became pregnant in 2019, we were comforted by the fact our parents would be able to fly over to help us, but once COVID hit, it was impossible for them to come and we’ve had no family or support for eleven months, and counting,” he said.

“We knew Chiara wouldn’t receive financial aid while taking time off work to care for the babies, as she is not yet an Australian permanent resident. But we never could have predicted or planned for the effects of the pandemic.

“My work was reduced to two days a week on JobKeeper, and due to unforeseen events we ended up without a home when the babies were four months old and it was only because of the generosity of friends that we are not homeless now.

“We have been looking for a rental or to buy a home but we are finding it hard to get a lease or finance for a house, with two babies and low income and a housing shortage and high
demand.

“I’m working full time again now, which gives us more money, but now Chiara has two babies alone and is struggling with no help.

“We just want our parents allowed over to help us.

“Chiara is suffering from depression and anxiety when she is alone with the babies, and there have been many instances where she was struggling, and I was away at work and unable to help her.”

A Facebook group called ‘Parents are Immediate Family’ has more than 14,000 members who are struggling with being separated from their parents, and are planning peaceful demonstrations in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne in July.

Nearly half of Australia’s population were either born overseas or have parents who were, and thousands of Australians and permanent residents have parents living abroad.


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