Five months have passed since the last time Indian citizens who keep a relationship with persons outside their country, have seen each other in person after they were stranded in different countries amid the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

As the third most infected country worldwide with a total of 3,314,953 COVID-19  registered cases, India imposed travel restrictions and entry bans, to protect the health and safety of its citizens, making them and their health a priority.

Following the example of the majority of countries worldwide, India closed its doors for internationals in mid-March, in a bid to stop the further spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and maintain the situation under control, leaving a large number of persons stranded outside the country, VisaGuide.World reports.

Soon after, India’s government initiated SOP- Standard Operating Procedures for travel on Vande Bharat, as well as Air Transport Bubble flights for citizens wishing to go to India or travel outside India. However, the government stressed that only internationals with valid visas would be permitted to enter India. The government also specified which of these categories will be allowed to enter the country through these operations.

Love Is Not Tourism: Indian Citizens Fighting to Bring their Lovers in India

Citizens who felt that couldn’t be included in any of the exemptions created by the country’s government used only social media to communicate with their partners and loved ones and continuously looked if there was any information about the reopening of visa application centres abroad or decisions for lifting bans on the respective countries.

But, then social media helped them see that they were not the only ones facing this problem. Through twitter hashtags, #LoveIsNotTourism and #LoveIsEssential a large number of couples created a network, sharing the challenge of being separated with their loved ones by travel restrictions and entry bans, and the problematic situation that they are currently facing.

Among them, there have been persons that have spent more time separated with their partners, than married.

Desperate to find new ways to reunite, some of them insist that the government should pay attention to their demands and ease travel restrictions because for them it is something essential.

Some of them consider these restrictions inhuman.

Online Petition Calls on Indian Government to Reopen Borders for Unmarried Partners

In this regard, India\s citizens have started a new petition to reunite loved ones in India, which up to this point has been signed by 1,444 persons.

“We are urging the Ministry of External Affairs of India, as well as the Government of India to acknowledge and recognise that there are transnational couples like us who are not married but are in serious, committed, long-term relationships. We need to be reunited. Because we are not considered to be ‘families’, we have consequently been separated by borders for months now. Some of us are engaged to be married, have led lives together, and also share financial commitments. Tourism is absolutely not an essential reason to travel, but we are NOT tourists,” the petition reads.

The petition quotes an article by  Weijun Yu and Jessica Keralis Health from Human Rights Journal, regarding International Travel Restrictions’ to support their cause. In the article, they identify that citizenship-based travel restrictions or entry bans go against public health knowledge and expertise, as well as violate human rights.

The petition also brings up an article by Amina Zafar published in cbc.ca, which says that restrictions don’t work because people may find other ways to travel, which would put them at greater risk. It is also stressed in the article that according to public health experts, the key to combating the COVID-19 pandemic is “social distancing interventions” and not “mass quarantine or travel bans“.

India Helps Stranded Citizens to Return Home

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, a total of  11,23,000 Indians citizens stranded abroad have been repatriated under the Vande Bharat Mission until August 19.

As for air bubbles, the country up to this point has created air bubbles with the UK, US, France, UAE, Germany, Qatar and Maldives.

India is also seeking to expand its travel with Australia, New Zealand,  Italy, Japan, Israel, Kenya, the Philippines, Russia, Nigeria, Bahrain, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. However, this does not concretely help couples to reunite.

Some European countries, such as Austria, Norway and Denmark, have started to facilitate the reunification process of on-EU/EEA partners and loved ones in the respective countries.

These examples are urged by citizens to follow the Ministry of External Affairs, in India, in order to help couples reunite, amid the Coronavirus outbreak. The citizens would follow all the preventive measures such as testing or quarantine rules, in order to solve this problem and get together with their partners and loved ones.

Although up to this point 10 European countries have lifted the travel ban, permitting the reunion of the partners separated by an entry ban, many visa application centres remain closed preventing couples from reuniting.

Up to this point, a total of 3,315,017 have tested positive for the COVID-19 in India, while 60,652 persons have died.

Another problem is that it has not been concretely discussed how long the imposed restrictions or this created situation could last.

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