DESPERATION: International students face being homeless and penniless

In the complete absence of a safety net for international students, it’s time for the community to step up, writes NIRMAL JOY

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“If we die of hunger, I hope someone will send our remains home,” said Karanveer Singh*, an international student studying in Sydney.

The father of a seven-month old and the sole bread winner of his family, he is but one of many Indian students who have been left without a job in the last few weeks.

The shutdown on services across the country due to the coronavirus has left many international students with no income opportunities in the near future. Their once-stable jobs in the service industry as kitchen hands, waiters, bartenders and security personnel have all but vanished. There’s a fear that this could last for almost half a year.

There goes the income that pays for their groceries and the roof above their heads.

In 2019, almost 19,000 Indian students were enrolled for various courses in NSW. To them, studying in Australia is not just about a degree, but about socio-economic mobility.

Unfortunately, the harsh truth is that COVID-19 does not care about your visa status.

With huge job losses, the virus has destroyed many students’ dreams of higher education and the chance to build a life here. Forget about paying the trimester fees – what are they going to do about their basic needs? Going back home is not an option as it involves a huge debt, shame and the label of failure.

The only resort is the University welfare cell – but its support is nominal at best, and cannot carry the load of this crisis.

There is no safety net for international students.

Regarding the lifting of the 20-hour week visa limitation for students – let’s not be misled by this. It’s really about filling the worker gap in aged care and restocking in supermarkets, not about helping students. Cash cows once, able-bodied labourers now.

As for what our federal and state, family, social and community support systems can offer these students, it’s absolutely zero. There is no public service door that they can knock. They don’t fall into the ‘client’ definitions of the larger welfare organisations.

Imagine living in a new country with no one to help you out.

Let’s admit it: if there’s anybody that can help, it is the community.

In a wonderful initiative, the Non-Resident Nepali Association Australia (NRNA) has ensured that Nepali students who are unemployed and/or have no family support locally will receive food for the next 30 days. They have identified over 100 Nepali in self-isolation of which 48 students are in New South Wales.

The Sikh Sangat too, is offering free tiffin service at gurudwaras and in restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s time that the larger Indian community extends the same helping hand to our students. Our organisations have done great work in celebrating Indian culture here in Australia, but now is the time for definitive action. The needs of these young people in the fear of being stranded in this country deserve our concerted effort.

We need to create a database of these students and a network for integrated support. We need to take on roles of support coordination, resource management and individual mentoring.

With the Nepali and Sikh community showcasing the true spirit of brotherhood in these trying times, it’s time for us all in the wider Indian community to do our part.

If you care, then let’s be there.

If you want to help, you can reach out to Nirmal Joy at 0469 805 078. He is part of a small group trying to map the needs of Indian students in Sydney. He wrote this article late at night at Western Sydney University Library

*Not his real name.

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