Thousands of international students lining up for food vouchers could just be the 'tip of the iceberg'

Advocates for international students say photos showing thousands lining up in the rain to access Victorian government support shows the struggles they're facing through the coronavirus crisis.

Food Vouchers Distributed To International Students Impacted By Coronavirus In Melbourne

International students line up for the Our Shout food voucher scheme outside the Melbourne Town Hall. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

International students in Australia are struggling to find help during the coronavirus crisis, with a Melbourne food voucher scheme illustrating the overwhelming demand for support.

The Melbourne City Council had to cap its Our Shout food voucher program after 17,000 students applied in just 36 hours.

The scheme, which gives vulnerable international students a $200 food voucher, was initially designed for 1,000 students.

International students line up for food vouchers outside the Melbourne Town Hall.
International students lining up in the rain for food vouchers outside Melbourne Town Hall in June 2020. Source: Getty

Photos taken outside the Melbourne Town Hall on Monday showed huge numbers of students lining up in the rain to apply for the program.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said those students could be just "the tip of the iceberg".

Mr Honeywood said it can be incredibly difficult for international students to find and apply for assistance.

"For these students to get support, there's a patchwork quilt of options and it can be incredibly difficult to navigate," he told SBS News.

"What we find is that for many of these young people - who might not be speaking English as a first language - it's incredibly difficult for them to navigate programs that would leave even an Australian student confused."

Mr Honeywood said Australia could be damaging its reputation as a welcoming destination for international students.

"Many of the international students who are caught up in this unprecedented pandemic were told they should just go home," he said.

"We haven't been able to properly coordinate our message to international students, and in that regard, we've lost a fair bit of street cred."

International education is worth $12.6 billion a year to the state of Victoria.
International education is worth $12.6 billion a year to the state of Victoria. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac/ Asanka Ratnayake

Council of International Students Australia spokeswoman Mili Mishra said financial hardship was a major challenge for many international students.

"There are some students who are struggling every day for basic things, and are on the brink of being homeless," she told SBS News.

"Being far away from family and loved ones makes them feel alone and anxious."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday stressed the importance of restarting the flow of international students.

"I haven't put a date on it because I think there's too many variables at this stage, we've got to see how the virus is presenting here and how our public health response is going," he told reporters.

"We've had some promising discussions. There's a number of states that are wanting to have international education resume as quickly as possible."

The international education sector was worth some $12 billion to the state of Victoria in 2019. 

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3 min read
Published 2 June 2020 at 6:00pm
Source: SBS News