Brisbane residents have started the long road to recovery following floods at the weekend but once again international students have been left without government support.
The Federal Government announced a Disaster Recovery Payment program for flood victims in a number of regions across NSW and Queensland last week. The eligibility extended to Australian citizens, permanent residents and a number of temporary visa holders but not to international students.
International students were also excluded from JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments when the pandemic hit despite contributing $38 billion to our economy in 2019.
23-year-old international student Daniel Gan said the past two years were “really hard” and to be without government support during another crisis was scary. He’s been at the at the University of Queensland since 2019.
“I honestly don’t know what to feel,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“International students are a group that’s taken advantage of in every disaster. It’s as if it’s a given that we will stay here but we should be given a bit more prioritisation.
“I feel that we have a right. Even though we’re not Australian citizens, we do contribute.”
Gan is the treasurer of the UQ Malaysian Students’ Association. He said about 150-200 Malaysian international students’ homes were damaged in the floods to the point where they needed alternative accommodation.
Gan said UQ stepped up and offered free meals as well as free accommodation for up to one month for students on campus, but the rest had fallen on the shoulders of volunteers.
Groups like the UQ Sikh Society were cooking and delivering free meals to students on campus and in the suburb of St Lucia where a large international student population lives.
The suburb is surrounded by the Brisbane River on three sides and was hit hard by flood waters.
“In St Lucia there’s a lot of young people and there were just piles and piles of belongings scattered along the roads,” Sikh Society vice president Ramneek Kaur told PEDESTRIAN.TV on Friday.
“It’s such a lively place and it was just dead yesterday.
“I could just see how much pain and how devastating it has been [for them].”
She said she’d been in regular contact with several international students, including three in one sharehouse who arrived from India 25 days earlier after they waited two years to start their degrees due to closed borders.
“They were living in St Lucia near the riverside and their house is just completely gone. They’re not allowed to live in the property anymore, the building has to be demolished,” Kaur said.
“They lost their laptops in the floodwater, their clothing — one messaged me this morning and she said she went to the laundromat and it took her three hours just to wash a small pile of clothes.”
She said they had come to Australia budgeting for their $130 per week rooms. But since that accommodation was no longer available they would be hard pressed to find anything under $300 per week each which left them under financial and emotional stress.
Another student told Kaur they were told they were allowed to remain in their rental property but felt unsafe due to the extensive water damage.
“They told me if they were to punch the wall [the house] would fall down,” Kaur said.
Small disaster relief grants are available to international students from the Queensland State Government, but Kaur and it was “disappointing” students had heard nothing from the Federal Government.
“They’re still the residents of this country they should get some disaster relief.”
She said international students were already in a vulnerable position away from their families, some of whom lost income due to the pandemic, and struggled to know where to turn during this crisis.
“A lot are actually embarrassed to come forward,” she said.
“They think that they shouldn’t have to ask for help or they’re scared to ask for help.
“And some people are furious. Their houses are gone and their landlady isn’t even helping them. There are so many mixed feelings.”
The decision to exclude international students from disaster relief has been criticised by Queensland Greens MPs including Member for Maiwar Michael Berkman, who said many international students living on the west side have been hit hard by the floods.
“These students were screwed over when it came to COVID-19 payments and have once again been left behind by the LNP federal government,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“I’ve spoken with international students whose landlords have threatened to kick them out, who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, and have lost all of their possessions in the flood waters.
He and other Greens members have written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urging the government to put pressure on Scott Morrison to expand the eligibility criteria to include international students.
The clean-up from flood waters began earlier this week and some parts of the city remain trashed but the Federal Government has done little if anything to help.