A four-year-old Sydney boy with autism stranded in India and separated from his father since March has missed specialist treatment for so long he has become non-verbal.
Concerns for the health of Yuvraj Krishna and other Australians stranded overseas have been raised by Labor’s shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, who is urging the Morrison government to intervene and help reunite the family.
Labor plans to continue pursuing the prime minister, Scott Morrison, with accusations he failed to deliver on the claim he made in September that the 26,700 Australians stranded at that time could be home by Christmas. Keneally noted that even Australians who return from overseas from Thursday would not be out of quarantine and back in their homes by Christmas Day.
While just over half of those registered as stranded with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in September have returned home, the number of Australiansregistered has since grown to 36,875.
In March, Tulika Singh travelled to India with her sons Yuvraj and Ayushmaan to visit her family, with the intention of returning to their home in Strathfield in April. Her husband remained in Sydney.
As Australia shut its borders and India was placed in a nationwide lockdown, Tulika was unable to purchase flights home and nothing has changed in the months since.
While she checks booking sites up to three times a day, she is unable to afford the three fares she needs, which cost about $24,000
Her seven-year-old, Ayushmaan, has been unable to attend school all year, but Tulika is more concerned about Yuvraj.
Before they left for India, Yuvraj had made progress in therapy and had begun to speak. However he has not been able to attend his Australian therapy sessions since March.
“He has stopped talking and he’s stopped responding to me,” Tulika said. “It’s happened gradually.”
A medical assessment by a therapist Yuvraj saw in Mumbai stated he had stopped speaking entirely. It noted his close relationship with his father and suggested their separation was a cause for his regression.
“[Yuvraj] is in shock because he is very attached to his father,” Tulika said.
In Sydney, Yuvraj’s father Rahul has started taking medication for depression and high blood pressure in the months since he last saw his children.
Tulika registered her details with Dfat in August, saying she wished to return to Australia.
Ever since, she has been following up with the department about an exemption to travel caps on the basis of her son’s autism, including sending medical certificates from the assessment in Mumbai.
In recent days, while checking Dfat’s online portal for updates, she noticed her status as wishing to return to Australia had been changed, an experience Labor has branded a government tactic to avoid “bad headlines” regarding the increasing numbers of stranded Australians.
Tulika told Guardian Australia she is distressed by the thought of being removed from Dfat’s list and missing out on a Christmas reunion, she is mostly concerned about Yuvraj’s condition.
“I just want to save my children from this,” she said.
Keneally told Guardian Australia the family’s story was “just heartbreaking” and that “these children need to be reunited with their father”.
“Scott Morrison’s failure to deliver on federal quarantine means there are almost 40,000 families around Australia who will have an empty chair at the Christmas table this year.”
Keneally said Labor was willing to work with the government “towards a safe and sustainable approach for national quarantine and border control, to bring the stranded Australians home and to save Australian jobs”.
Dfat did not respond to Guardian Australia in time for publication. Dfat has previously denied artificially depressing statistics on those who want to return.
In November, Dfat issued a warning that scammers, impersonating consular staff, were contacting Australians registered as stranded and trying to sell them fake tickets for government evacuation flights.
The warning came two weeks after Dfat apologised for inadvertently revealing the personal details of Australians stranded overseas – the third data breach in as many months.
Caps on international arrivals introduced in July to ease pressure on states’ hotel quarantine systems have significantly limited seats on planes flying into Australia, resulting in repeatedly cancelled flights and the prioritisation of business-class fares by airlines seeking to remain profitable.