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Asylum seeking families head back to school

March 02, 2022

Families in Sydney are excited to head back to school for the 2022 year, with support from the Asylum Seekers Centre. In the lead-up to term 1, family engagement coordinator Antoinette Uwera helped families to enrol in schools and get uniforms, stationery and backpacks.

“Kids on bridging visas have to pay international school fees, it’s $1400 per 10 weeks. That’s a lot for people who are not working,” she said.

A woman sitting down next to children's toys, holding a children's book and smiling
Asylum Seekers Centre family engagement coordinator Antoinette Uwera

Ms Uwera helped families to apply for international fee waivers and contacted school administrators, asking them for school uniforms.

“I need to explain the situation that they are on low incomes, they work casually, they really need help,” she said.

“When the child doesn’t have a proper uniform, they’re very embarrassed to look different to their classmates.”

In cases where schools won’t provide free uniforms, the Asylum Seekers Centre buys them for children. The ASC has also been distributing 100 backpacks filled with school supplies that were generously donated by Soroptimist International Sydney.

A child wearing school uniform, holding a backpack
One of the backpacks donated by Soroptimist International Sydney for children seeking asylum. Photo by Erin Black

Ms Uwera said disruptions caused by Covid-19 had made school more challenging for families.

“Homeschooling was very hard for our parents, they find it harder to help kids with their homework (due to language barriers),” she said.

“We supplied laptops to children, but the internet was another issue. Big families with many kids were sharing the internet. We were able to help with bills.”

Ms Uwera said families were keen to return to in-person classes.

“They didn’t like homeschooling at all. They missed their friends, they missed playing at school. They are very excited to go back to normal life,” she said.

Case study: Azizi family gets school fee relief

The Azizi* family in Sydney – with children aged 14, 9 and 6 years old – have been in Australia since 2013, but are still waiting for asylum on temporary bridging visas.

The mother doesn’t work, and the father is an Uber driver – his income was negatively impacted by last year’s Covid-19 lockdown and the Omicron outbreak.

Ms Uwera contacted the children’s schools asking for school uniforms and an exemption to the international school fees.

“When you have more than two kids at school it’s really expensive – one shirt with a school logo can cost $60, a jacket can cost $100,” she said.

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