“I worked hard, I did my best, but I still feel defeated by this unknown enemy. I just cry at night thinking about what will happen to me if it doesn’t end soon. “
Alexis (not his real name) arrived in Melbourne from the Philippines in 2019.
As one of more than 700,000 international students enrolled in Australian University last year, he saw education in the country as, beyond the adventures of a new land of residence, a stepping stone for a brighter future.
But the chaos and behavior of the Covid-19 pandemic destroyed those dreams: they left him with no education to aspire to or work to support him, and were stranded in a foreign country without hope.
‘We cannot support you’
“I lost my job, the school didn’t want to support us or to discount or freeze our fees and other bills were still in,” he told the Guardian. “And there is not even moral support from the government because they think … ‘we cannot support you’. We understand that their priority is Australian citizens but we feel we are alone in this fight.”
With his income cut off and his limited savings kept eroding, Alexis said he could not afford to buy food or other basic necessities, or pay bills that were still increasing. He could not buy a flight home and even if he could, there were no flights to the Philippines he could carry.
Alexis has a roof over his head, for now, but said without the Philippine diaspora bayanihan – Tagalog said roughly translated as the spirit of communal solidarity – helping him in Australia, he would be poor.
“I want to thank Titos and my Titas in each organization for helping us with food and shelter. They gave us light in this darkness and hope and confidence that this would eventually pass away … we remained strong together. “
His financial readiness kept him awake at night, but Alexis said it was a recurring racism incident attributed to Covid-19 in the public that had shaken his confidence in the country that had welcomed him.
“I feel very inhumane with the way some Australians treat Asian international students like me.
“When I was on the train and I was wearing a mask just in case, a man shouted at me saying that I was stupid and stupid and because I am Asian, I brought the virus to this country. He said he wanted to hit me. I felt so desperate, I just lowered my head and got off the train. “
‘Must draw a line somewhere’
In building a massive $ 130 billion stimulus package to save the country’s economy and as many jobs as possible, the government made the argument that “we have to draw a line somewhere,” and that means excluding people in Australia with temporary visas.
“This is a massive call on a public wallet and it’s a debt that the country will pay for years to come, and at six million people on the job guard program, that’s almost half of Australia’s workforce,” treasurer Josh Frydenberg, argued.
“Add an extra one million to the work guard program, that’s an additional $ 18 billion. We have to draw a line somewhere and I think the Australians understand how generous, how important this package is. “
The government also believes that those who are not Australian citizens should “go home” during this pandemic.
“If you are a visitor in this country, it’s time … to go home,” said the prime minister, Scott Morrison. “Our focus and priority is to support Australians and Australians with the economic support available.”
For many people, going home is not feasible – they have built lives and families and communities here. And for others it is not possible. There is no way home.
Some countries have closed their borders to all migrants – including citizens – or no flights can take them home, or transit countries such as Singapore have closed their borders for travelers.
There are hundreds of thousands in Australia currently stranded without safety nets, and there is no prospect of government intervention.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, they were, in many cases, among the most vulnerable Australians. They often work in precarious jobs in the show economy, at risk of being exploited, underpaid and dangerous work practices.
They find themselves stranded now in a foreign country, without citizenship social capital, or legal protection. They are without family support, or lifelong assistance from established networks and friendships.
In many cases, they are completely alone.
Sense of secure
Shubham Baid is in the second semester of a master’s degree at UNSW.
A board member on the university’s postgraduate board, he said his phone now rings continuously – 15 to 20 calls a day – from international students who are worried about their courses or capacity to survive and live in Australia.
Baid said students were worried about being forced to pay full student fees and course fees, when the course was now running online instead of being submitted directly, and worried they could get caught up in violating their visa conditions with travel restrictions.
“I really understand that a country will first protect its citizens,” Baid said, “but I think there needs to be consideration, some provisions for international students. International education brings an enormous amount, $ 39 billion, into the Australian economy. And we are part of this community. We work and study here, we pay taxes, we live in the Australian community, but at the moment, we feel very disconnected, we feel isolated. “
Some initiatives, Baid believes, will cost a little government, if any, such as automatic visa extensions for students whose studies have been disrupted. Baid said he and his colleagues were preparing a student survey, measuring their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If the government cannot sympathize, it will be difficult to overcome, the future will be blurred for students, and that is another great pressure above the pressure that has been felt by everyone during this crisis. We don’t know what our future will be like.
“We need to know that we will be guarded in this country, the security that everyone wants, especially at a time like this.”
A moral imperative
Reyvi Marinas is a member of Migrante Australia, a community and advocacy group for the Philippine diaspora, which has begun donating food, counseling and legal advice to destitute students.
Some students, he said, came to the door of Migrante in despair, having been harassed by debt collectors for student fees they could not pay.
Marinas believes that international students are an important part of Australia, not only from its economy but also the fabric of its community, and says they feel “abandoned” by the government in dealing with this crisis. There is a moral imperative to help those living in communities vulnerable to crisis changes, he said.
“Australia has encouraged these students to come to Australia … but in times of need, the contributions of these students have been completely ignored and deliberately ignored by this government. Many of these students have made enormous contributions to the social, cultural and economic fabric of the Australian community, many of whom are taxpayers like other Australian citizens and permanent residents in the country. “
He said many Filipino students had no choice but to find ways to survive in Australia. There are no return flights, and there is no way to cross the Philippine islands even if they can find a flight.
“People really suffer, and they feel left out, they feel alone in this.”
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