A Bendigo boy has been reunited with his mother after being stuck in India after 18 months of separation prolonged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The family was reunited in Darwin where Dev, 3, flew to with a chaperone from India after travelling to the country with his family for his christening in November 2019.
"It's just a relief; that's the right word," Dev's father Juby Kalliyattu said. "Because all these weeks and months were really stressful.
"I couldn't go back and do everything again; the amount of emails and departments we dealt with, I didn't have a clue what I was getting into in the beginning.
"But the support I received from Bendigo, my work, people I know and my neighbourhood was amazing. People calling just to say they were thinking of us was fantastic."
Mr Kalliyattu returned to Bendigo ahead of his family in December 2019 and Sheethal Thomas flew to be by her husband's side when he fell ill.
Dev was in the care of his four grandparents and the family had expected him to return home to Bendigo by March 2020, until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
In April 2021, the Department of Home Affairs rejected Ms Thomas and Mr Kalliyattu's request for an exemption to travel to India, before the country's case spike and the Australian travel ban.
The Bendigo Advertiser spoke to the family in early May and on May 7 the federal government admitted its initial assessment of their situation was "incorrect".
"Since the article came out, the immigration reassessed our file," Mr Kalliyattu said.
"From there we had a contact person from DFAT who helped and guided us with the documentation and processes and we managed to find a spot on a flight.
"We needed to find a guide to bring Dev over as we weren't allowed to go back and get him.
"There was a Facebook group 'Australians stranded in India' with thousands of people in it but I saw a familiar name of a friend from school in 2001. I knew he was in Sydney and when I called him he said his mum was stranded in India with a visa to come here but had her permissions declined.
"I thought, 'what if she's willing to bring Dev?' as DFAT would allow permission for her too."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade processed the Kalliyattu family's application alongside his chaperone Geetha Balavinodhan and Dev travelled to Delhi for three days of quarantine and coronavirus tests with Ms Balavinodhan ahead of his flight on May 30.
Victoria's fourth lockdown further delayed plans for Dev to return to Bendigo after central Victoria was listed as a hotspot by the Northern Territory health officials. Ms Thomas, who was in Queensland on her way to Darwin to meet her son, was forbidden from entering the state and was forced to go into 14 days of quarantine.
Dev expected to see his family when he got off the plane in Darwin and his family said he was left feeling scared, unloved and alone when Ms Thomas was unable to meet him. The parents worried for their son's future emotional wellbeing.
Ms Balavinodhan was forced to look after the young boy as his family applied for a travel exemption for Ms Thomas.
"He arrived in Darwin on Sunday and we were unlucky that we had the outbreak in Victoria," Mr Kalliyattu said.
"Our initial plan was for my wife to travel to Darwin and be with Dev during quarantine but when Bendigo's name came on the news last Tuesday we thought the ideal thing was for my wife to get out of Victoria.
"She took a flight from Bendigo to Sydney to Brisbane and from there she was waiting to find out about the flight from Delhi on Sunday.
"During that time, the Northern Territory announced restrictions for Victorians dating back to May 14 and that no one from Bendigo could enter without quarantine."
Northern Territory health officials told the family domestic travellers would be quarantined separately to international ones and Ms Thomas could therefore not stay with Dev as per the family's initial confirmation.
Mr Kalliyattu started requesting travel exemptions straight away for his wife to meet Dev.
On Wednesday, Ms Thomas was granted an exemption and reunited with her son at the territory's Howard Spring quarantine facility.
The pair is now undergoing 14 days of quarantine.
"(Ms Thomas) was so relieved and she wasn't emotionally distressed anymore," Mr Kalliyattu said.
"We had sorted everything but then there was a final bump getting into the Northern Territory.
"We're still mindful there are hundreds of children still stranded in India just like we were and there are groups trying to figure out ways to get their kids here."
Mr Kalliyattu said the family was happy to follow the quarantine restrictions for international travel as it was the right thing to do to keep the community safe.
Now, after 18 months, he's looking forward to seeing his son in just under two weeks.
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