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Aussie kids stranded in India

Australian kids stranded in India
Photo: Australian children remain stuck in India
Foreign affairs officials have revealed there are 209 Australian minors stranded in India and almost 11,000 citizens and permanent residents.

More than 200 Australian children are stuck in India where the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage with thousands of deaths each day.

Desperate parents have been pleading with the government to develop a plan to reunite them with stranded children.

Foreign affairs officials told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra there were 209 Australian minors registered to return home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Lynette Wood denied they were unaccompanied minors because most were with family members or guardians.

Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said it would be hard for parents of stranded children to hear an official focus on the term.
"It's real people - kids over there, parents here. Think about that instead of quibbling about a category," she said.

Ms Wood said the department was working hard to bring minors home and reunite families.

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

Since October, 70 children without parents have been returned from India including five in the past week.

Ms Wood said the department wanted to bring all children home but couldn't give an estimate, citing changing circumstances of families.

"We're working closely with every single family to identify the circumstances, when they want their children to come home and to find a way to do that," she said.

Senator Wong vented her frustration after repeatedly asking for an estimate.

"People would appreciate and respect instead of a word salad, 'no, we can't give you an estimate'. That would be at least honest."

Around the world, there are 35,128 Australians stranded with 4260 listed as vulnerable.

There are almost 11,000 people in India wanting to return home including 1024 that are vulnerable.

The United Kingdom, United States, Philippines and Thailand round out the top five.

Australia has facilitated eight repatriation flights from India since a travel ban was lifted last month.

On the first flight, 70 people were barred from boarding after returning positive coronavirus tests conducted at a lab which had its accreditation suspended.

The government handed responsibility to Qantas for pre-flight testing in India as is common in other parts of the world.

DFAT officials revealed a public health expert was dispatched to India to deal with the situation two days after the high positive rate and Qantas changed the laboratory it used.

There are another three sold-out flights scheduled for June, including one due into Adelaide airport on Friday.

But DFAT was unable to confirm how many flights would be scheduled for July, with plans still being finalised.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne clashed with Senator Wong as she defended the government's efforts in bringing 500,000 Australians home during the pandemic.

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