Underpaid, unemployed and starving students create hub to help each other
We’re sorry, this service is currently unavailable. Please try again later.
, register or subscribe to save articles for later.
Normal text size
Very large text size
After finding themselves homeless, underpaid, out of work and with little to eat during the pandemic, international students have established a hub in Sydney to support each other.
The new International Student Hub, backed by the City of Sydney and the Sydney Alliance coalition of community groups, unions and religious groups, will be launched in Surry Hills on Wednesday as the first collective of its kind to be run by students.
Erika Katalbas and Abhishek Singh at the new International Student Hub.
University of Sydney business school lecturer Stephen Clibborn, who is on the hub’s advisory committee, said it would provide much needed community support and advice to students about their legal rights and entitlements to minimum wages.
Dr Clibborn’s research has identified systemic underpayment of international students who were more likely to be mistreated at work and at risk of exploitation in overcrowded accommodation.
Anisha Pokharel, 24, arrived in Sydney from Nepal two years ago to study social work and was forced to survive mainly on bread and milk for four months when she was out of work last year. Reliant on savings, she had a grocery budget of $10 to $20 per week.
“During the pandemic it was hard for me to pay my rent because I was jobless,” she said. “I had to survive on very little food.”
Chaitra Hareesh, 30, arrived in Sydney from India in 2018 to study a master of commerce degree at the University of NSW. Now living in Homebush and working as a community organiser as part of the Sydney Alliance, she had never expected to find herself homeless during the pandemic.
A friend provided her with a bed until she could find her feet. She is now working with other students who have struggled to feed themselves after losing jobs.
Abhishek Singh, 27, is studying a post graduate degree at Western Sydney University and arrived from India more than three years ago. His first job in a car wash paid him $6 per hour. He was forced to leave his accommodation in December last year after his safety was threatened.
“A white Australian guy threatened to hit me and told me: ‘you people are spreading COVID here and go back to where you came from’,” he said.
Mr Singh moved out of his accommodation in December and struggled to find a new place before a friend took him in. He now lives in shared student housing. “The student hub will be able to help other students like me in the future,” he said.
Erika Katalbas, 29, who works with other students from the Philippines at the hub lost her casual job during the pandemic and was previously paid below the legal minimum wage in a hospitality job after arriving in Sydney in 2016. She is now looking for a job in social work having completed post-graduate commerce and social work degrees in Sydney.
“In the hub I feel more connected to people who understood the challenges I was going through as an international student. It’s like a home away from home,” she said.
NSW MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich said international students were a key part of Sydney’s culture and workforce and many had found themselves stranded without family support.
“The pandemic is a big reminder this is a sector we need to do more to support,” he said. “The City of Sydney has provided support where other levels of government have not.”
A City of Sydney spokeswoman said it had funded the International Student Hub as part of its COVID-19 recovery program.
Lord mayor Clover Moore said the student hub was an important project “to give international students a sense of belonging as they begin their new life here”.
“International students have experienced additional challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while they are away from their family, so it is more important than ever to support them,” she said.
Catch all the day’s breaking news
At the end of each day, we’ll send you the most important breaking news headlines, evening entertainment ideas and a long read to enjoy. Sign up here .