Australia wooed hundreds of thousands of international students to its shores with the promise of a first-class education and fun-kissed adventure, but the coronavirus crisis has left many jobless and depending on food handouts.
Each day up to 100 students from Asia, Latin America and beyond stand on carefully spaced fluro-pink crosses outside a Melbourne cooking school, waiting to pick up free freshly prepared meals.
The students — just the tip of the iceberg — pay several thousands of US dollars each year to study Down Under but, like Colombian student Santiago Castillo, now find themselves counting cents to survive.
Castillo, 26, worked at a cafe before the pandemic broke out — one of the almost one million jobs that have been lost in Australia because of lockdown measures.
After paying his rent and borrowing money from friends, he now counts less than US$66 in his savings account — a meagre amount to get by in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Vast government subsidies to laid-off workers do not apply to non-residents — even if they pay local taxes and bring billions of dollars into the Australian economy.
To fill the void student soup kitchens have popped up across the country.
‘It’s really stressful,’ Castillo said, pointing to cysts that have developed on his lips and bottom of both eyes since he became jobless.
‘I have developed skin problems... It’s like I can handle the stress in my mind, but my body is reacting,’ he said.
The allowance of two meals a day — usually curry or chicken and a vegetarian dish — at the Melbourne City Institute of Education has been a lifeline.
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