WA coronavirus border restrictions are in the spotlight as Human Rights...

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined growing calls for the easing of Western Australia’s hard border, suggesting that the current system prioritizes people returning to work over people with mental health problems.

Important points:

  • Only people who meet strict criteria are allowed to enter WA
  • There are concerns that jobs take precedence over mental health
  • One WA resident described the exemption process as “humiliating.”

The organization said it spoke to a number of people whose applications were denied by authorities on compassionate grounds.

Currently, only people are allowed to enter the state who meet strict exception criteria.

Among them are people visiting relatives who have had a major medical episode, truck drivers, and rescue workers.

HRW researcher Sophie McNeill said these restrictions were “neither necessary nor proportionate” to the state’s current position.

She said there was growing concern that people returning to work have priority over people with mental health problems.

“We are not demanding that the hard limit be lifted.

“We say the process needs to change and that compassionate cases need to be prioritized.”

“Degrading, humiliating” application process

Prime Minister Mark McGowan yesterday committed to a “cautious” approach to reopening state borders. The WA chief health officer is expected to update his hard limit advice this week.

Sarah Cole is one of thousands of Western Australians hoping to be approved to return home for compassionate reasons.

She requested to return home three times because her mental health deteriorated the longer she stayed in Sydney, where she lived for three years.

Sarah Cole, center left, with Brendan, Carol and Eric Cole. Ms. Cole says the application process is “humiliating.”(Supplied: Sarah Cole)

Ms. Cole said she avoided a formal mental health diagnosis for fear of discrimination when looking for a job.

“I wrote a letter describing my mental health problems and ailments as they were getting worse [from] being isolated from any family and having difficulty finding permanent employment, “she said.

“But every time you send an email back within a few days, my reasons for the trip are not good enough and I can’t come.”

She is currently preparing a fourth application which will include a letter from her GP and details of her financial situation.

Ms. Cole said the trial made her feel like she was “begging” to be returned to her home state.

“It feels quite humiliating or humiliating when you stand up for how much you struggle with the state police,” she said.

“I am really uncomfortable having to tell you about these things.”

A close up of Mark McGowan wearing a blue suit and white shirt.

A close up of Mark McGowan wearing a blue suit and white shirt.

WA Prime Minister Mark McGowan says the state will take a “cautious” approach to reopening.(ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

Encourages health professionals to make decisions

Ms. McNeill said cases like Ms. Cole’s were made worse by the fact that the police were leading the application process.

“Many travel waiver requests are related to mental illness, but decisions are made by police officers, not health professionals,” she said.

“The police shouldn’t be the only ones making these important decisions that determine people’s lives.”

A man wearing a mask carrying luggage at Perth Airport.

A man wearing a mask carrying luggage at Perth Airport.

All other Australian states and territories have basically agreed to reopen their borders before Christmas.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Ms. Cole said the process was also made difficult by a lack of details about what should be delivered with applications.

“Their website does not list any documents that you should provide in support of your case when you apply for the G2G,” she said.

She said she tried calling a state helpline but was unsuccessful.

“They couldn’t guarantee that any paperwork or argument would help, not even a job,” she said.

“It makes the whole situation feel very unsafe, and I feel quite undesirable.”

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