University students grapple with coronavirus crisis

May 06, 2020

For many Australians on the brink of adulthood, the current recession has wreaked stress  and income loss. For those without a financial buffer, the situation is critical.

University student Rakib, 19, still has limited shifts at his supermarket job, but is faced with the new responsibility of supporting his family.

When COVID-19 hit, Rakib’s father and sister lost their casual jobs.

As people on temporary visas, awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim, the family is not eligible to receive government payments such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper.

A silhouette of a man walking with a backpack and looking at his mobile phone

Initially Rakib and his brother – who is also a student and casual worker – took on extra shifts in order to keep the family afloat.

“After the lockdown, the supermarket hired a lot of people. They hired so many people that they stopped giving us a lot of hours,” he told The Guardian in the Full Story podcast today.

“I’m only getting a few shifts every week at the most.

“Rent is a big worry right now. Our rent is $500 a week and that is a big thing.”

Rakib is a data science student who dreams of working for a major tech firm. In early 2020, assisted by Asylum Seekers Centre volunteer Jude Stoddart, he applied for and won a scholarship to study a bachelor’s degree, waiving prohibitive international student fees.

But the pandemic has slowed his career plans. When it seemed possible that he could take on more supermarket shifts, he dropped from full-time study to part-time.

Rakib’s family has inquired about withdrawing their superannuation in order to pay the bills. His dad has signed up as a food delivery driver, but due to competition in the market is only making about $50 a week.

“My sister already ran out of her savings, I’m also running out. We won’t be able to keep up,” Rakib said.

Edon is an 18-year-old university student who also won a scholarship to start university in 2020.

He works in retail and his shifts have reduced since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“As long as I work one shift a week, I can afford to pay for my phone plan and Internet, which I need for uni. This is a hard situation, so I’m not expecting to keep the same lifestyle – I’m not too upset about that,” he said.

But Edon is being as frugal as he can with the understanding that if his father, a driver and the family breadwinner, loses work, the family won’t be eligible for income support.

“My dad’s job, so far it hasn’t been impacted, but his company may be affected. That’s always in the back of our minds,” he said.

Edon said it was unreasonable to expect people seeking asylum to leave Australia during the coronavirus.

“For refugees and people in danger, you can’t make them go back to their countries. Especially now, are they supposed to swim back?” he said.

“Asylum seekers and refugees are really being left out and not thought about by the government.”


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