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Parents pleading for help to return 173 children stranded in India

Parents are pleading with the federal government to develop a plan to help reunite them with their children who are stranded in India.

There are 173 unaccompanied Australian minors in India.

The Senate's Covid-19 inquiry has on Friday heard from parents who are desperate to be reunited with their children, who are staying with family in India as the nation grapples with a record-breaking virus outbreak.

Qantas does not allow children to fly unaccompanied on repatriation flights.

Harjinder's three-year-old son has been with his grandparents in India since September 2019.

Drisya and Dilin have not seen their five-year-old daughter, who is also with grandparents, for more than a year.

A child is swabbed for a Covid test in India.
More than 170 Australian children (not the ones pictured) are stranded in India. Source: AP, file photo

The couple moved to Australia in early 2020 while their daughter was visiting her grandparents, with the pandemic and travel restrictions putting their reunion in disarray.

"There are many parents who have been separated from their children," Dilin said.

"I plead, on behalf of all of them, to please consider the option of bringing in minors unaccompanied, either through repatriation flights or even private chartered flights."

Flight fo children has not been considered

Senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Lynette Wood said a flight specifically for children had not been considered.

Officials were working directly with families to sort out options, she said.

Australia's High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell said 20 unaccompanied minors had been helped home since December.

Strict limits on the number of people who can return to Australia each week have been in place during the health crisis, with a ban currently in place on flights from India.

The inquiry also heard from Melbourne man Sunny, who remains stranded in Delhi with his elderly mother.

He travelled to India last May to help care for his father, who died while Sunny was still in quarantine after landing.

Sunny and his mother have been trying to return since then.

"We stay holed in at the house and fear for our lives on a constant basis," he told the inquiry.

"We think it just a matter of time when we may get infected and get into serious trouble, considering the healthcare system here is overwhelmed and almost dysfunctional.

"People are dying on the streets because of lack of oxygen. The Australian government should not abandon us in this life-threatening situation."

More than 400,000 new Covid cases in India

India recorded another grim global world record on Thursday with more than 412,000 new coronavirus cases and almost 4000 deaths.

There are 9500 Australians who want to return home, including 950 considered vulnerable.

Sunny and his mother had a flight booked to return in July last year to Melbourne, which was delayed and then ultimately cancelled because of Victoria's extended lockdown.

They were then meant to return last week but the government announced a ban on flights.

The Morrison government is facing widespread backlash after it threatened jail and fines for people who tried to beat the ban.

Repatriation flights will slowly restart on May 15 but questions remain over when commercial flights will begin.

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