The success of a recent GoFundMe campaign, has ensured the immediate future of Sydney-based international student LW (name withheld for safety). Originally from Papua New Guinea, LW has become a well-known and respected activist within Sydney’s LGBTQI and diverse cultural communities. He has highlighted the inadequacies of the Australian Federal Government’s response to the challenges thrown up by the ongoing pandemic that are faced by international students.
“LW is a really valued member of our community,” Bridget Harilaou, media contact for Pride In Protest explained to Star Observer, adding that LW “has been an activist and organiser with Pride In Protest for many years, has also worked on Black Lives Matter campaigns, and has spoken up for Pacifica climate justice.
“As a black migrant in this county, he is very vulnerable. I messaged him last week, and he told me that he had plans to end his life, and I think that’s the reality, of VISAs that require exorbitant fees be paid to corporate universities who think of students as being disposable.”
LW came to Australia to study at the University of New South Wales, a campus which in 2019 made over $25 million in profits, with its website boasting they are among the top 100 universities world-wide, with 59,000 students and a 7,000-strong research community. They clearly pride themselves on the size, it appears they give very little consideration to the circumstances of individual students and particularly those of its most vulnerable.
However emotional it may be, LW’s story is one becoming all the more common. Despite the campaign’s success, for every story like his, there are many that have not ended in successes.
LW’s public profile activism and his being open about his sexuality stands in opposition in entirety to the views held by Papua New Guinea’s government, particularly on the subject LGBTQI rights. Thankfully here in Australia, male same-sex sexual activity is not viewed as a crime worthy of up to 14 years imprisonment.
Scratch the surface, and you will find many more demonstrations of how those threats of LW’s deportation could have very likely ended in violence, rejection from communities, or by any number of other legal challenges thrown up by the country’s archaic laws, and though these threats are very real, in the wake of COVID-19, many students in the same situation will be deported back to counties without the recourses needed to keep communities safe.
“You can see this lack of support and it just bleeds into situations like this. The fact that the Department of Education, Skills and Employment are happy to deport people back to countries where COVID is still rampant and not only that, deport queer people back to countries where it is illegal and unsafe for them to be who they are, to now be deporting students over a non-payment of fees, it completely ignores how COVID-19 has desperately affected international students and has placed them into poverty.
“International students have been incredibly disadvantaged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been no financial support nor reprieve from university fees or a reduction to the requirements of students in terms of work, required under a student VISA.” Harilaou adds.
“Their parents overseas can no longer pay for those university fees because they have been put out of work by COVID,” says Harilaou, adding that they personally know people who have not been able to pay these fees and have been deported. “Its unacceptable and completely shocking.”
The education industry was, until 2020 at least, Australia’s fourth biggest international export, bringing in more than $30 billion annually. Yet what LW’s story and others much like his show is that these inequalities and financial pressures faced by international students have remained the corner stones to the financial sustainability of our universities and higher education sector
Harilaou adds that “corporate universities extort thousands upon thousands of dollars from these students. I mean $17,000 for one semester of study is beyond what any Australian student could possibly imagine having to pay upfront, but also in order to live a safe life and to access things like health care.”
When Star Observer looked into this story last week, we were put in touch with Dylan, one of the individuals responsible for LW’s GoFundMe Page. Though relieved at its success, Dylan knows that many other international students face very different futures.
“LW happened to be a good friend of mine, and just through one of our conversations about life, he told me about the situation he was in, in regards to COVID-19 and the university he is enrolled at. So I thought this campaign was something we could do to support him, LW is just one of the thousands of international students going through this hardship.”
Dylan adds that the government’s reponse “was pretty disgusting.”
“There are currently some campaigns going on from a number of organisations about getting international students back, but with the repatriation flights and the numbers they allow, it’s unlikely we will see a return of international students until at least 2022. The Australian Government made it clear that Aussie citizens come first.”