4 out of 5 international students are still in Australia – how we treat them will have consequences



International students in Australia are actively comparing their situation during the pandemic with their peers in other countries.
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Angela Lehmann, Australian National University and Aasha Sriram, University of Melbourne

COVID-19 has not stopped international education. As of August 24, 524,000 international students were living among us in Australian cities and communities. They represent 78% of all student visa holders, according to data the Department of Home Affairs provided to us.

These students are potential ambassadors for Australia and our institutions. They could help shape our country’s reputation as a safe and welcoming destination in the post-pandemic world – but only if we look after them.

Pie chart and table showing numbers of international students in Australia and offshore

Data as of August 24 2020 provided by Department of Home Affairs, Author provided

The numbers of students now in Australia vary across sectors. Currently, 73% of our international higher education students and 78% of postgraduate research students are here. The vast majority — 78% — of our international secondary school students are still here too.

The percentage is even higher for vocational education and training (VET): 91% of the sector’s international students are here, 159,233 in all.

Non-award programs (shorter courses that don’t lead to a degree or diploma) and English language programs (ELICOS) have the largest percentages of students now offshore.

Table showing numbers and percentages of student visa holders still in Australia

Data provided by Department of Home Affairs at authors’ request, Author provided

The experiences these large numbers of students are having now will have a direct impact on their decisions and patterns of mobility once borders reopen.

However, institutions and government agencies continue to focus on outward-looking approaches to recovery, such as offshore recruitment and delivery, negotiating pilot safety corridors, and scenario planning for the reopening of borders. The onshore response to international education risks being severely neglected.




Read more:
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Students are comparing countries’ responses

International students in Australian cities and communities are of course talking about their situation. They are using social media, creating blogs and interacting constantly with families and friends back home and around the world.

During the pandemic, this peer-to-peer form of marketing is heightened in its global reach. Our students are constantly comparing their lives with students in both their home countries and Australia’s major competitor destinations.

As a result, the crisis of international student social support is the subject of global comparisons. Students and their families are weighing up what they are going through “here” compared to what others are going through “there”.




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‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know


A life transformed in Melbourne

Arya is a full-time postgraduate student from India who is staying in Melbourne. We spoke with Arya as a part of a series of interviews with international students during COVID-19.

Her dream of studying in Australia was made possible through a combination of a student loan, borrowing from family, and savings after working for two years as a journalist. Prior to COVID-19, she relied on part-time jobs to support herself. This income was essential to her financial survival in Melbourne.

The first lockdown meant she lost both her jobs — one in hospitality and one at her university. As these sectors are struggling in this crisis, her prospect of finding a new job is bleak.

Arya is not eligible for federal government support such as JobSeeker. But she might be able to get Victorian government support, including a voucher to buy groceries and a one-off payment of A$1,100. She can also apply for a modest grant from her university to cover some bills.

She has struggled to pay rent, but the moratorium on evictions has prevented her from becoming homeless. Her university and local community groups in Melbourne have also provided food hampers.

Arya’s goal was to study in Australia at a world-class institution and solidify her status within the upwardly mobile middle classes in India. Her life has been transformed into a struggle to eat, pay rent and avoid homelessness while keeping her grades up. Arya observes:

It is becoming more than an education. The question is shifting to how students live and survive in a global city midst a pandemic.




Read more:
‘No one would even know if I had died in my room’: coronavirus leaves international students in dire straits


It’s even harder in the US

Arya is in contact with friends and fellow Indian students studying overseas. While her situation in Melbourne is dire, her friends in the US are struggling every day. Arya introduced us to Dhanya.

Dhanya, who moved to New York in 2017 to study, says she is struggling “despite doing everything right”. After recently graduating and finding a job, Dhanya lost her H1B sponsored visa for skilled workers as a result of the Trump administration’s recent freeze on visas. “The US government has not considered that we can’t get home,” Dhanya says.

She reports that she and many of her friends in similar situations have been told they can choose to work as unpaid interns.

Many American states enacted a patchwork of temporary eviction moratoriums and the federal government issued a partial ban on evictions. These moratoriums have now largely expired, forcing students to rely on the discretion of landlords. As a non-citizen, Dhanya cannot receive unemployment benefits or a stimulus cheque.

Dhanya is unaware of any non-monetary support from her university or the government for international students. There are no free meal plans, grocery vouchers, or community-based food schemes.

Despite our Melbourne-based student living with the daily anxiety about her finances, she is comparing her experience relatively positively to her friends in the US.

Some countries are enhancing reputations

Students are paying attention to countries that are including international students and temporary migrants in their social policy response to COVID-19. Arya says:

The way countries handle this now is definitely going to impact how students see your country as a destination in the future.

Arya and her friends are keeping a keen eye on European destinations such as Germany and Sweden. They have also been impressed by Canada’s timely support for international students during this crisis.




Read more:
Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?


It is not enough for Australia to rely on other nations doing badly on social welfare and support. We need to do more than aim to receive a comparatively “good” score on poverty, exploitation and vulnerability based on others doing worse.

Australia urgently needs to actively reshape international education market perceptions by demonstrating that we offer not only world-class education, but also world-class student support. And that starts with helping the cohort of more than half-a-million international students who currently call Australia home.The Conversation

Angela Lehmann, Honorary Lecturer, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Aasha Sriram, Research Assistant, Melbourne Social Equity Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘No one would even know if I had died in my room’: coronavirus leaves international students in dire straits



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Alan Morris, University of Technology Sydney; Catherine Hastings, University of Technology Sydney; Emma Mitchell, University of Technology Sydney; Gaby Ramia, University of Sydney, and Shaun Wilson, Macquarie University

Many international students in private rental housing in Sydney and Melbourne were struggling before COVID-19 hit. Our surveys of these students before and during the pandemic show it has made their already precarious situations much worse.

Of those with paid work when the pandemic began, six in ten lost their jobs. Many were struggling to pay rent and tuition fees.




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Why coronavirus impacts are devastating for international students in private rental housing


Our new report is based on two surveys* of several thousand students. To track financial distress, we developed eight indicators from Australian Bureau of Statistics measures for the first survey in late 2019. We used these again for the second survey in mid-2020. The responses are shown below.

Chart showing indicators of financial distress among international students

Author provided

Since the lockdown, students’ responses showed:

  • 29% of respondents had gone without meals (up from 22% prior to lockdown)

  • 26% had pawned or sold something to obtain money (up from 12%)

  • 23% had had trouble paying for electricity on time (up from 11%)

  • 23% had asked community organisations for help (up from 4%).

Our 2019 survey showed about one in five international students in the private rental sector were already in precarious housing situations. The second survey revealed far more were living precariously because of deteriorating finances during the pandemic.




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This article also draws on 26 semi-structured interviews with students to share fresh insights into how they have coped as the pandemic unfolded in Sydney and Melbourne.

Incomes from work and family lost

The central financial issue has been loss of income during the pandemic. Just 15% of students who’d lost jobs had found a new one. Almost two-thirds (63%) of those who still had a job had had their hours cut, most by about 50%.

At the same time, financial support from families decreased for just over four in ten students. Only 12% said it had increased.

Before the pandemic, 50% of respondents reported an income below A$500 a week; after it began, 70% did.

Struggling to pay the rent

Six in ten respondents agreed paying the rent had become more difficult. Since the pandemic, 27% said they were unable to pay the full rent. One in five agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I feel I could become homeless.”

A VET student described the impact of losing her job on her finances:

I could really save some money in the month of February and March that really, you know, took me until the month of April. So, I was not really worried in April, but then as May started and nearly the middle of May, I was really worried about my account balance. I’d already given multiple calls to different organisations by then for any kind of support.

Half of our respondents reported trying to negotiate a rent reduction: 22% received a reduction and 31% received a reduction or a deferral. Almost half were unsuccessful. A university student from Melbourne outlined her failed attempt to reduce rent:

Yeah, we are worrying [about paying the rent] and like we emailed to our agency to make discount or something like that, but they said it’s hard for them, an agency and landlord too, because the landlord has a mortgage […] and everybody’s struggling and so for now they don’t have any discount […] so we are worried because before that, before this current thing [the pandemic], we had our part-time jobs and the three of us have now lost our jobs.

Two students sitting at a table together and working out a problem
In some share houses, all the students have lost their jobs and don’t know how they’ll pay the rent.
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Read more:
Tracking the rise of room sharing and overcrowding, and what it means for housing in Australia


A vocational education and training (VET) student from Sydney, who lost her job in March, described how she was treated when she couldn’t pay the full rent:

So I was not able to pay my full rent [… ]because of that they [the agent] were like, ‘Okay, don’t pay rent if you don’t have any money, we’ll understand.’ […] Then all of a sudden by mid-April they were like, ‘Hey, you have this much outstanding rent and you have to pay it immediately, otherwise the landlord is going to file the case to the tribunal.’ And I was shocked, and it was out of nowhere, and I told them, ‘You were the one who told me you didn’t have to pay rent if you don’t have it.‘

Studies and well-being suffer too

Students are struggling on several fronts. One student remarked:

Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s hard sometimes so that I’m not sleeping and then you have to do school work as well and then you have to think about these things like managing, talking to agents every day and negotiating and searching for jobs. There’s just a lot of things coming together.

Six in ten respondents agreed or strongly agreed financial stress was affecting their studies. Over half (54%) reported financial difficulties and 44% worried they might not be able to pay tuition fees.

I’ve also been trying to get fees reduction but every time it has always been like a negative response. So it has actually been pretty difficult […] especially with we’re not getting the same quality of education.

Just over a third (35%) worried they might have to leave Australia before completing their studies.

Respondents did not feel governments had supported them. State government support was rated good or excellent by 17%, and only 13% felt that way about federal government support.

One university student said:

In this current pandemic the Australian government has made it more clear that they don’t really care about the [international] students. I don’t know why is that. It’s pretty much heartbreaking considering the input of them in the Australian economy.




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COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up


Loneliness on the rise

Loneliness was already a significant problem and it has worsened during the pandemic. Just under a third of respondents said they felt lonely before the pandemic, but 63% felt lonelier since the pandemic.

A university student in Sydney said:

I think no one would even know if I had died in my room if it wasn’t for a month when my landlady would come and ask for rent. Other than that, no one would even know.

Our research is revealing just how precarious the lives of international students have become. Policymakers should heed the evidence and consider how to make Australia a better place to study.


* The first survey was distributed by 43 educational institutions (24 VET, ten universities, seven English language and two foundation course institutions) to their international students in late 2019. It received 7,084 responses. The second was distributed in June-July 2020 to 3,114 respondents of the first survey who had agreed to face-to-face interviews and to be recontacted. The second survey received 852 responses.The Conversation

Alan Morris, Professor, Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Catherine Hastings, Assistant Researcher, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Emma Mitchell, Assistant Researcher, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Gaby Ramia, Associate Professor in Public Policy, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, and Shaun Wilson, Associate Professor of Sociology, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?



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Gavin Moodie, RMIT University

Australian universities are suffering revenue and job losses due to the current and projected loss of international students. A Mitchell Institute report has estimated the sector may lose up to A$19 billion in the next three years, while modelling from Universities Australia shows more than 20,000 jobs are at risk over six months, and more after that.

On April 3, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students in Australia could return home if they could not support themselves. Commentators feared such a flippant attitude would cause Australia to lose its world class reputation if it didn’t come to the aid of international students.

Months of tension with China (the biggest source of Australian university international students, at a third of the total) threatened to further jeopardise our international standing.

On Monday, the Australian government announced it will restart granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas in a push to restart international education.

But how do we compare with some of Australia’s largest competitors?

Closed campuses

Australia imposed a ban on travel from China on February 1, stranding an estimated 87,000 students abroad who were due to start their academic year in Australia in March.

By that time it was the middle of the second, or winter, semester for Australia’s big English language competitors in the northern hemisphere: the USA, UK and Canada. Most of these countries’ international students stayed to complete their semester, so universities did not suffer an immediate fall in revenue.

But universities in these countries did incur substantial additional costs as many completed the semester by transferring teaching online at short notice.




Read more:
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While online education meets similar standards to campus-based education, students prefer face-to-face learning. This is particularly true for international students, who see immersion in a different culture as one of the main benefits of studying overseas.

In May, many US and UK universities announced bullish plans to teach their first semester in autumn, starting in September, face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). There were various provisions for plexiglass, physical distancing, masks and regular testing.

But even partial campus reopening plans were never credible in the US when they were announced. Still, many universities in the competitor countries sought to maximise international enrolments by maintaining at least a substantial part of their campuses would be open by September.

The US

US universities no longer seem to be nearly as strong competitors for international students. While the number of new COVID-19 cases has bumpily fallen in Australia, Canada and the UK, they have been increasing in the US.

When it became clear US universities could not responsibly open their campuses, they started reversing their announcements of opening fully in September.

Princeton University. It’s unlikely many US universities will be able to offer full on-campus education in their first autumn semester.
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By July 20 some 53% of 1,215 US universities surveyed still planned to teach in person in September, 11% planned online education, 32% planned a mix of online and in person education, and 4% were considering a range of scenarios or had not yet decided their education mode.

US President Donald Trump sought to pressure universities to open fully by making studying at least partly on campus a condition of international students’ visas. He soon reversed that order, but may issue an alternative seeking the same effect.

US attractiveness as an international study destination is likely to be further reduced by the instability in universities’ plans, the uncertainty of federal immigration conditions, and continuing restrictions on entry from China and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom

Australian universities are in a much more similar position to UK universities, which are long time and powerful rivals for international students. They are expecting to lose substantially from COVID-19’s suppression of international enrolments.

Unlike Australia, the UK government has granted universities access to government-backed support such as a job retention scheme which includes short-term contracts, and business loan support.




Read more:
Why is the Australian government letting universities suffer?


The UK government has also brought forward teaching payments and block research grants, and increased funds for students in financial difficulty.

Unlike Australia, the UK does not impose international travel restrictions but requires entrants from most countries including China and India to self-isolate for a fortnight after entry. It will therefore remain a more attractive destination for new students until Australia lifts or at least relaxes its travel restrictions.

Canada

Canadian universities and colleges have some distinct advantages over their competitors for international students. They enjoy considerable financial and other support from their national and provincial governments.

While Canada’s average proportion of new COVID-19 cases is similar to Australia’s and the UK’s, these are concentrated in the biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and their environs. The Atlantic provinces have Tasmanian levels of COVID-19 cases, and some of their universities attract very high proportions of international students.

The University of Toronto. Canada’s universities have received more support from their government than Australia’s.
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Canada’s biggest competitive disadvantage is that while it will admit returning international students, it currently is not admitting new students for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government will grant permits to international students who study online from abroad, and like Australia this will count towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit. The government has also introduced a temporary two-stage approval process for international students to expedite their approval to enter to study on campus when this is permitted.




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But Canada is not likely to be a desirable destination for new international students until the government and then institutions can give a firm timetable and clear plans for studying on campus.

So, what should Australia do?

To remain competitive compared to the UK, Australian universities should keep prospective students updated on the issues that affect their study decisions such as entry requirements, start dates, and study and accommodation conditions. This communication should be targeted towards education agents and their clients, and be specific to individual students.

Few students and their parents are convinced about the value and quality of online education. And they fear much of the benefit of immersion in an English speaking university environment would be lost if spatial distancing required social distancing.

Australian universities will have to be as clear as they can about the benefits of the study and living conditions students are likely to experience here.The Conversation

Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, we need a global coronavirus inquiry, but not for petty political point-scoring



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Paul Komesaroff, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, University of Toronto

The US government’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has a clear political motive: to shift the blame for its own failure to respond effectively to the epidemic within its own borders.

The finger-pointing by the Trump administration, and by US allies including Australia, has prompted China to refuse to cooperate.

This is unfortunate, because it is in everyone’s interest to work together, not to question China’s handling of the crisis but to discover the factors that cause new infections so we can avert future disasters.




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Murky origins: why China will never welcome a global inquiry into the source of COVID-19


We need to understand how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, came into existence, and to look at how and when we might have been able to impede its progress.

This means examining the origins of the virus and the biological and environmental factors that allowed it to become so dangerous. To achieve this, an international, collaborative scientific investigation free from recriminations and narrow political agendas is needed.

What we know so far

Extensive scientific data have shown that SARS-CoV-2 was not deliberately engineered and there was no conspiracy to create an epidemic. It did not originate in or escape from a laboratory, in Wuhan or anywhere. The first human cases of COVID-19 did not come from the Wuhan wet market but from elsewhere in China, possibly outside Hubei province altogether.

In fact, the disease did not “originate” in a market at all, although an important spreading event linked to the Wuhan market did occur that brought it to the attention of Chinese public health authorities.

SARS-CoV-2 almost certainly descended from an animal virus that underwent a series of mutations that made it dangerous to humans. The path to humans probably involved intermediate animal hosts, although which animals remains uncertain.

So here is the most likely sequence of events: a coronavirus in a bat found its way into one or more other animal hosts, possibly including a pangolin or some kind of cat, somewhere in southern China. At that time, the virus could not infect or cause noticeable disease in humans, or else the animals infected had little contact with humans. Over an unknown period of time (possibly decades) the virus mutated in a way that made it highly dangerous and eventually, by chance, a human became infected, probably in about the second week of November 2019.

The new virus was quickly passed on to other people and found its way to Hubei province. On December 10, an infected individual visited the crowded market in Wuhan and was responsible for infecting 21 other people. Over the following two weeks, enough people became sick to alert doctors and public health officials, leading to an announcement on December 31 warning the world of the dangerous new disease. The market was closed the following day and vigorous efforts were made to identify and isolate contacts.

Three weeks later it was clear these measures could not contain the epidemic, and on January 23 Chinese authorities took the brave and unprecedented step of locking down the entire city. This controlled the spread of the virus in China, but it was too late to stop the spread internationally, because by that time the virus was already present in Taiwan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.

What we don’t know yet

What we now have to find out is what happened in the months or years leading up to November 2019 and whether, in retrospect, anything could have been done to prevent the disaster.

It is crucial we understand the evolution of this virus because, as with all human diseases that emerge from animals, it will have occurred as a result of both random biological events and responses to environmental pressures. The virus had to mutate, the original wild animal had to be exposed to other species, and the virus had to spread within that species and undergo further mutations. The animal had to come into close contact with a human who, at the right moment, has to contract the new infection.




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Despite the low probability of each individual step, in recent decades a long list of viruses has negotiated this entire pathway, including HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Nipah, Lassa, Zika, Hendra, various types of influenza, and now SARS-CoV-2. This suggests new factors are increasing the chances of exposure, adaptation, infection and spread.

It is likely these factors include population growth, agricultural expansion, the loss of natural wild animal habitat, the loss of traditional food sources, and changing relationships between animal species and between animals and humans. Deforestation and climate change further exacerbate this process, as does increased movement of human populations, through domestic and international travel. The international illegal wildlife trade, inappropriate use of drugs and insecticides, and reluctance of governments to work together make matters even worse.

Knowing exactly how these factors affect the genetics and evolution of viruses will help us find ways to thwart them. We could develop a coordinated early warning system to identify and track potentially dangerous pathogens, and monitor interactions between species that could transmit them. We could preserve native habitats and reduce the pressure on wild animals to enter human habitats in search of food. We could strategically cull animals that act as reservoirs for dangerous viruses.

We could precisely target infection control procedures such as health monitoring and quarantine. We could work together to develop diagnostic tests, new drugs and vaccines. We could develop globally coordinated rapid response plans for when new outbreaks arise.




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This process will only work if undertaken with openness, trust, and an acknowledgement that it is in the entire world’s best interest. It will only work if we accept that viruses are not national problems or sovereign responsibilities, but global challenges.

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call that petty recriminations, ideological rivalries and short-sighted political ambitions must be set aside. The countries of the world must encourage China and the United States to raise their sights to the greater challenge and help conduct the investigation we need to avert future disaster.

It is urgent, because the next pandemic may already be incubating somewhere in the world at this very moment.The Conversation

Paul Komesaroff, Professor of Medicine, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, Professor of Bioethics & Medicine, Sydney Health Ethics, Haematologist/BMT Physician, Royal North Shore Hospital and Director, Praxis Australia, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up



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Hannah Soong, University of South Australia

The Victorian and ACT governments in recent days released support packages for international students facing hardship due to COVID-19.

Victoria has committed A$45 million under which international students could be eligible for relief payments of up to $1,100, co-contributed by Victorian universities. The ACT has committed A$450,000 to support vulnerable people on temporary visas and international students without income due to COVID-19.

The Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia all have varying amounts of help available for international students – whether it be one-off payments, free mental health support or help with food and shelter.

These moves by the states are in stark contrast to the federal government. International students, most of whom are on temporary visas, have been excluded from the goverment’s A$130 billion stimulus package. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students unable to support themselves could return to their home countries.

Such comments can put a sizeable dent in Australia’s international education reputation. The way Australia supports international students studying here now may cement its global reputation as a country of choice to study.

Recent reports show Australia’s competitors for international students – Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland – have offered support to those in hardship. This includes access to government welfare and flexibility on visas.




Read more:
90,000 foreign graduates are stuck in Australia without financial support: it’s a humanitarian and economic crisis in the making


Even before this pandemic, international students were exposed to several unique hardships. These are compounded by COVID-19.

Not only are they stranded in a foreign country unable or unsure about going home, many have no or little support from family or close friends in Australia.

It is therefore critical for Australian universities to act collectively, swiftly and decisively to provide a model of care for international students’ well-being. And it’s important for the Prime Minister to show he understands their unique vulnerabilities.

How international students are vulnerable

There is a perception that the majority of Chinese international students come from wealthy households. But a study of 652 Chinese students revealed significant differences in both demographics and backgrounds, as well as sources of funding for their studies.

While the majority (67%) had their studies funded by parents, 17% funded them through personal savings. The majority of self-financed students experienced added emotional and psychological challenges during their studies overseas.

Chinese students make up the majority (around 40%) of international students in Australia, but tens of thousands also come from other Asian countries including India, Nepal, Vietnam and Pakistan.

About half of international students, who are private renters, rely on work to pay rent. Like many, they too have lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic – but they are not eligible for JobKeeper wage subsidies.

On March 30, Scott Morrison announced the National Cabinet had agreed to put in place a six-month moratorium on evictions.

This helps but is only one part of the rental issue for international students. Many international students enrolled in Australia for study, are unable to return to their homeland. Nor are they allowed to break their leases early without penalty.

The spread of this coronavirus has unfortunately also accelerated racist sentiments against Asian Australians and international students from Asia. In February, a student who had returned from visiting family in Malaysia found she had been evicted from her rental, as her landlord assumed she had travelled to China for Chinese New Year.




Read more:
Why coronavirus impacts are devastating for international students in private rental housing


The protracted uncertainty of not knowing if students can pursue or complete their studies or continue to pay their rent can significantly affect their mental health.

A recent report found due to culture, language and academic barriers international students are at a higher risk of mental ill-health than domestic students.

In 2019, the Victorian Coroners Prevention Unit found 27 international students died by suicide between 2009 and 2015 in the state. But the coroner said this was likely to be an underestimation.

After the Victorian Coroner’s finding, the state government appointed Orygen Youth Health to undertake research to formulate a model of care that looks at mental health support and services for international students.

What can Australia do?

Australia can lead the way by developing a model of care that is responsive to the needs of affected COVID-19 international students. It should be informed by policies and programs that prevent international students feeling a worsening sense of entrapment, or being boxed-in by their circumstances.

The Australian government must work closely with both international students and universities to formulate practical support designed to mitigate the drivers of mental distress. Support and assistance can be informed by our national mental health policy settings, and aim to ensure the widest possible range of proven interventions that promote well-being, and reduce mental distress and vulnerability




Read more:
‘I’m an international student in Australia. How do I tell my parents the pressure they put on me is too much?’


Financial support to ease pressure must be paralleled with culturally competent and easily accessible mental-health support. How Australia, as a society, responds and supports international students during the pandemic and its aftermath will be a defining moment for Australian international education.

In view of strengthening Australia as a trusted and reputable international education destination for current and future international students, COVID-19 provides us an opportunity to live out our depth of empathy, as an egalitarian and cosmopolitan society.The Conversation

Hannah Soong, Senior Lecturer and Socio-cultural researcher, UniSA Education Futures, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what are Australia’s obligations to cruise ships off its coast under international law?



Joel Carrett/AAP

Natalie Klein, UNSW

The spectre of large ships with people desperate to come ashore is not a new sight in Australia.

In 2001, the MV Tampa infamously sought to enter Australian waters off Christmas Island to discharge more than 400 asylum seekers who had been rescued by the Norwegian vessel.

It is estimated that 15,000 crew members are now stranded on 18 cruise ships floating around Australia, with mounting concerns that coronavirus will take hold and spread.

The circumstances for each ship may vary, but the fundamental rules of international law remain the same.

Passengers from the cruise ship MS Artania en route to their charter flight from Perth back to Germany last week.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

Duty to render assistance

For those at sea, there is a duty for masters of vessels to render assistance to those in distress. States must fulfill this obligation, too.

Australia could be seen as fulfilling this responsibility with its plan to send doctors to the cruise ships to evaluate sick crew members. An at-sea boarding is challenging, though, and requires the consent and cooperation of those on board.

When the vessel itself is in distress, the international law of the sea allows for it to enter a port of refuge.




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Though countries exercise sovereignty over their ports and are entitled to control which vessels enter, an exception exists under customary international law to allow ships in distress to dock.

This is what happened in 2001 when the master of the Tampa issued a distress call to warrant his entry to Christmas Island.

But what counts as distress? Essentially, it is when there is a clear threat to the safety of those aboard the ship.

Traditionally, this related to situations when a vessel had a broken mast, damaged sails or malfunctioning engines or other mechanical failures requiring repair. A vessel could enter into port and seek the repairs needed before continuing on its journey.

The Tampa’s distress, however, was caused by the fact it was carrying an excess number of people who required more food, water and medical attention than the vessel was equipped to provide.

International law protections for crews

What about a cruise liner with a crew of 1,000 who live in close quarters and are exposed to the coronavirus? A situation of distress could well arise on these ships, as well.

International law has minimum requirements for the crew operating a ship. At the moment, it would seem the crew on a cruise liner would be divided between those who are essential for the running of a vessel and those whose jobs are to look after the passengers.

A situation of distress would be more easily established when the crew responsible for the actual running of the vessel are unwell and unable to perform tasks essential for the safety of the ship.




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Coronavirus has seriously tested our border security. Have we learned from our mistakes?


The crew members also have core rights that are set out in the Maritime Labour Convention, which came into force in 2013. It sets the working and living standards for crews working on ships internationally.

Under this convention, seafarers who are in need of immediate medical care are to be given access to medical facilities on shore. Australia is bound by this obligation for vessels located in its territorial waters, regardless of whether those ships are foreign-registered.

Australia has implemented the convention under its own Navigation Act and, most particularly, the Marine Order 11.

That order requires the owners of vessels

put in place measures for the health protection, medical care and essential dental care for seafarers on board.

This obligation extends to ensuring that

seafarers have health protection and medical care as comparable as possible to that available to workers on shore, including prompt access to: (i) necessary medicines, medical equipment and facilities for diagnosis and treatment; and (ii) medical information and expertise.

This order applies to Australian vessels. The question is whether the same rules apply to a foreign-registered vessel.

The Ruby Princess, for example, is registered to the Bahamas. The Bahamas is bound by the Maritime Labour Convention, which sets out similar requirements to those in Australia’s Marine Order.

However, the vessel owners do not have full responsibility for the well-being of crews on board. The Maritime Labour Convention makes clear that Australia is duty-bound to offer medical care to crew on ships in its territorial waters.




Read more:
Memories overboard! What the law says about claiming compensation for a holiday gone wrong


The convention does not indicate who has primary responsibility to provide medical assistance in cases like these, but the shipowner does have financial liability under the treaty to defray the expenses of such treatment. What matters is the crew receives the necessary medical care.

For Australia, there is still a balance of rights to be achieved. Under international law, a state might refuse access to its ports for a ship that poses a serious and unacceptable safety, environmental, health or security threat to it. A pandemic would no doubt count in this regard.

Port states have the right to protect their local populations in different ways, consistent with international health regulations put forth by the World Health Organisation and with the International Ship and Port Facility Code.

Yet, the safety of persons on board must be assured, as well.The Conversation

Natalie Klein, Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest crisis ever to hit international education


Christopher Ziguras, RMIT University and Ly Tran, Deakin University

The coronavirus outbreak may be the biggest disruption to international student flows in history.

There are more than 100,000 students stuck in China who had intended to study in Australia this year. As each day passes, it becomes more unlikely they will arrive in time for the start of the academic year.

Of course international affairs are bound to sometimes interfere with the more than 5.3 million students studying outside their home country, all over the world.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States closed its borders temporarily and tightened student visa restrictions, particularly for students from the Middle East. Thousands were forced to choose different study destinations in the following years.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s government instructed all its citizens studying in Canada to return home, in protest at the Canadian foreign minister’s call to release women’s rights activists held in Saudi jails.

A significant proportion of the 12,000 or so Saudi students in Canada left to continue their studies elsewhere, before the Saudi government quietly softened its stance.

So we have seen calamities before, but never on this scale. There are a few reasons for this.

Why this is worse than before

The current temporary migration of students from China to Australia represents one of the largest education flows the world has ever seen. Federal education department data show there were more than 212,000 Chinese international students in Australia by the end of 2019.


Screenshot/Department of Education

This accounts for 28% of Australia’s total international student population. Globally, there are only two study routes that involve larger numbers of students. The world’s largest student flow is from China to the United States and the second largest is from India to the US.

It’s also difficult to imagine a worse time for this epidemic to happen for students heading to the southern hemisphere than January to February, at the end of our long summer break.

Many Chinese students had returned home for the summer and others were preparing to start their studies at the end of February.

By comparison, the SARS epidemic in 2003 didn’t significantly dent international student enrolments in Australia because it peaked around April-May 2003, well after students had started the academic year.




Read more:
We need to make sure the international student boom is sustainable


Ending in July that year, the SARS outbreak infected fewer than half the number of people than have already contracted coronavirus. Even during the SARS outbreak Australia didn’t implement bans on those travelling from affected countries.

What will the impact be?

This crisis hits hard for many Chinese students, an integral component of our campus communities. It not only causes disruptions to their study, accommodation, part-time employment and life plans, but also their mental well-being.

A humane, supportive and respectful response from the university communities is vital at this stage.

Australia has never experienced such a sudden drop in student numbers.

The reduced enrolments will have profound impacts on class sizes and the teaching workforce, particularly at masters level in universities with the highest proportions of students from China. Around 46% of Chinese students are studying a postgraduate masters by coursework. If classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them.

And the effects don’t end there. Tourism, accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers who cater to international students will be hit hard too.

Chinese students contributed A$12 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, so whatever happens from this point, the financial impact will be significant. The cost of the drop in enrolments in semester one may well amount to several billion dollars.

The newly-formed Global Reputation Taskforce by Australia’s Council for International Education has commissioned some rapid response research to promote more informed discussion about the implications and impacts of the crisis.




Read more:
What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?


If the epidemic is contained quickly, some of the 100,000 students stuck in China will be able to start their studies in semester one, and the rest could delay until mid-year. But there might still be longer-term effects.

Australia has a world-class higher education system and the world is closely watching how we manage this crisis as it unfolds.

Prospective students in China will be particularly focused on Australia’s response as they weigh future study options.

The world is watching

Such a fast-moving crisis presents a range of challenges for those in universities, colleges (such as English language schools) and schools who are trying to communicate with thousands of worried students who can’t enter the country.

Australian universities are scrambling to consider a wide range of responses. These include:

  • delivering courses online
  • providing intensive courses and summer or winter courses
  • arrangements around semester commencement
  • fee refund and deferral
  • provision of clear and updated information
  • support structures for starting and continuing Chinese students, including extended academic and welfare support, counselling, special helplines, and coronavirus-specific information guidelines
  • support with visa issues, accommodation and employment arrangements.

A coordinated approach involving different stakeholders who are providing different supports for Chinese students is an urgent priority. This includes education providers, government, city councils, international student associations, student groups and professional organisations.




Read more:
Coronavirus fears can trigger anti-Chinese prejudice. Here’s how schools can help


This outbreak further raises awareness within the international education sector of the need for risk management and crisis response strategies to ensure sustainability.

Most importantly, we need to ensure we remain focused on the human consequences of this tragedy first. Headlines focusing on lost revenues at a time like this are offensive to international students and everyone involved in international education.The Conversation

Christopher Ziguras, Professor of Global Studies, RMIT University and Ly Tran, ARC Future Fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s not clear where Trump’s ‘Space Force’ fits within international agreement on peaceful use of space


Melissa de Zwart, University of Adelaide

Overnight US President Donald Trump announced the establishment of a “Space Force” as a separate force of the US military.

Trump has indicated the reasoning behind the Space Force stems from national security concerns arising from the potential for renewed activities in space by China and Russia. Trump had previously referred to space as the “new warfighting domain.”

It’s not yet clear where this move sits in light of prohibitions laid out in the Outer Space Treaty, the document that has guided the the exploration and use of outer space by members of the United Nations since 1967.




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We’re drafting a legal guide to war in space. Hopefully we’ll never need to use it


In his recent announcement, Trump said:

When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. So important.

Trump announces “Space Force”, a sixth branch of the armed forces in that country.

It’s been coming

Departments in the US military currently include the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.

The announcement of a Space Force is part of Trump’s increased interest in the space domain, having in 2017 revived the National Space Council, under the leadership of Mike Pence.

Trump had previously flagged the idea of a US Space Force with statements in March and May.

However, with this most recent announcement Trump officially directed the US Department of Defense and the Pentagon to establish the Space Force.

Much more will be needed to actually make this happen. The President cannot simply declare the existence of a new branch of the US armed forces – it would also require, at minimum, an Act of Congress and quite possibly something more. Each branch of the US military has its own unique origins and would require the restructure of the Air Force and other oversight mechanisms in the Pentagon.

Further, there is also the question regarding what such a force could do. Trump’s speech flagged some sort of peacekeeping role.

Rich guys like rockets

Whilst much of the reportage of Trump’s speech has focused on the military aspects of his announcement, Trump reminded the audience that the Space Force was not the only space activity planned by his administration. Rather there was a strong emphasis on commercial space industries, observing that “rich guys seem to like rockets”.

US laws relating to commercial space are to be updated to encourage commercial space industries, directing government and the private sector to work cooperatively. Trump said:

I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry. We are modernizing out-of-date space regulations. They’re way out of date. They haven’t been changed in many, many years. And today we’re taking one more step to unleash the power of American ingenuity. In a few moments, I will sign a new directive to federal departments and agencies. They will work together with American industry to implement a state-of-the-art framework for space traffic management.




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A sports car and a glitter ball are now in space – what does that say about us as humans?


Trump also celebrated the potential for benefit to US workers, along with a lot of rhetoric about conquering the unknown. He said “we are Americans and the future belongs totally to us”, we will be “leading humanity beyond the Earth” and “into the forbidden skies”.

Noting the interest of private entrepreneurs establishing long term settlements on Mars, Trump observed that whoever made it to Mars first was fine as long as it was a US citizen.

The Outer Space Treaty

Trump’s proposals – as with any other new outer space settlements – must operate within prohibitions laid out in the Outer Space Treaty. Established in 1967, this document is the framework multilateral treaty that establishes the principal rules regulating the exploration and use of outer space.

Article II of the Outer Space Treaty indicates that “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

That said, US law has been drafted to enable access to, including mining of, space resources, without any claim of sovereignty being made.

With respect to a Space Force, Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty expresses a principle of use of space for “peaceful purposes”. Members of the Outer Space Treaty are forbidden from placing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in orbit around the Earth, on celestial bodies or stationed in outer space. Military bases, installations and fortifications, weapons testing and conduct of military manouevers on celestial bodies are also forbidden.

Of course, none of this has prevented military personnel being involved in space activities and exploration since the dawn of the space age. Both the early US astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts have been members of their respective countries armed forces. Nor has it prevented the transit of weapons of mass destruction through space. GPS is a development of the US Department of Defense and many satellites, including Australia’s own Optus C1 satellite is a dual use (military and civilian) satellite.




Read more:
As the world embraces space, the 50 year old Outer Space Treaty needs adaptation


All eyes on space

The question of the legality of the extent of military uses of outer space and what role may be performed by Trump’s Space Force is still open.

Generally, the practice of the space faring states to date indicates that the prohibitions contained in Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty have been interpreted as “peaceful”, but as referring to non-aggressive rather than non-military uses of space.




Read more:
With China’s space station about to crash land, who’s responsible if you get hit by space junk?


Of course, militaries worldwide are already very reliant upon space in terms of communication, position, navigation and timing, surveillance and reconnaissance. Militaries regularly hold exercises such as a Day without Space, which prepares users for the possible destruction of or serious interference with GPS, internet and satellites communications, upon which all modern militaries are heavily reliant.

Space assets such as satellites are quite fragile and valuable and hence issues will inevitably arise regarding capacity to protect space assets.

The ConversationTrump’s Space Force may still be a highly speculative announcement but it is true that we live in an era where militaries and civilians worldwide are becoming far more reliant and invested in the space domain.

Melissa de Zwart, Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia expels two Russian spies as part of international push against Russia



File 20180326 188598 18t4lc9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Russians had to leave within a week “for actions inconsistent with their status”.
AAP/Joel Carrett

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Australian government is expelling two Russian spies as part of a broad international retaliatory action against the nerve agent attack on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain earlier this month.

The diplomats have been “identified as undeclared intelligence officers”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement on Tuesday morning. “Undeclared intelligence agents” are spies.

More than 20 Western countries, including the US, EU countries and Canada, are expelling more than 100 Russians, in a dramatic escalation of the push against Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May told the UK parliament this was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history”.

Turnbull and Bishop said the Russians had to leave within a week “for actions inconsistent with their status”.

“This decision reflects the shocking nature of the attack – the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community,” they said in a statement.

“It takes into account advice from the UK government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Such an attack cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation.

“We strongly support the call on Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program in accordance with international law.

“This attack is part of a pattern of reckless and deliberate conduct by the Russian state that constitutes a growing threat to international security, global non-proliferation rules against the use of chemical weapons, the rights of other sovereign nations and the international rules-based order that underpins them,” the statement said.

Turnbull briefed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who immediately backed the action.

“I have spoken to the security agencies. I am very supportive of this measure,” Shorten told reporters.

“These are undeclared agents and so therefore it is inappropriate that they be in Australia.”

Asked whether he believed it was beyond doubt that the Russians were involved in the nerve agent attack, Shorten said “our security agencies have that view and therefore I think this is a proportionate action today”.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a critical condition.

Update:

The Russian embassy issued a statement saying: “It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilised bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against the common sense. The modern world is not in a stage when it is possible to dictate anything to anybody, regardless of the nostalgia for past grandeur in certain capitals.”

The statement said that “neither the Russian side, attempt on which citizens’ life was made, nor other states possess impartial exhaustive information about the ‘Skripal case’”.

“Such flagrant and primitive campaigns as the ‘Skripal case’ that are crudely orchestrated by London, could only trigger further erosion of international relations architecture on which peace and security in the whole world during the post-war period were rested.”

Further update

The ConversationRussia’s ambassador in Canberra Grigory Logvinov dodged the question of whether the Russians expelled are spies. “No ambassador would give you an answer, and actually ask your authorities how they could judge who is a special agent or not. Within my embassy, there are only career diplomats,” he told the ABC.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump-Turnbull call: trading people like pawns undermines the goals of international co-operation



File 20170805 2386 1c7mqui

AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

What is the point of international co-operation in matters of shared concern? According to the UN Charter, its founding member nations were determined to achieve overarching societal progress based on human rights.

Excerpt from the UN Charter.

The international legal system of the UN era continues to attempt, with mixed success, to promote these goals.

Within intricately connected global systems that produce ever-more complex problems, a framework for international co-operation is essential. The international legal system, however imperfect, must be maintained as a bulwark against the wholesale pursuit of domestic political interests.

Yet our belief in the efficacy of this system is challenged when the stark reality of international power relations is laid bare. It seems the more insight we have into what happens behind the scenes, the harder it becomes to convince the sceptical that international law has either legal or normative power.

On Friday, The Washington Post published a leaked transcript of a now-infamous phone call between the then newly elected US president, Donald Trump, and Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

The shocking conversation reveals that the deal for the US to accept some of those asylum seekers currently detained offshore – a key feature of the Australian government’s effort to close its offshore detention centre on Manus Island – imposes no obligation on the US beyond “going through the process”. According to Turnbull:

… the agreement … does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any.

Trump made it abundantly clear that he did not see either the US national interest or his personal popularity being served by upholding the agreement:

… boy that will make us look awfully bad. Here I am calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people. Really it looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground.


Further reading: Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy


Trading lives in a ‘refugee swap’

The deal between Australia and the US remains mired in confusion almost a year on. Australia committed to resettling some Central American refugees currently in Costa Rica, as part of a US-led program.

Soon after, Turnbull announced an agreement with the Obama administration that would see the US resettle perhaps 1,250 refugees currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru.

The transcript confirms that Trump was resistant to inheriting what he described as a “rotten deal”:

I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now.

Turnbull sought to reassure Trump he could sell the agreement to the US public as consistent with his campaign promise to tighten immigration controls.

Turnbull emphasised his and Trump’s shared identity as businessmen and represented the “deal” as a business transaction that ought to be upheld, at least formally:

Please, if we can agree to stick to the deal, you have complete discretion in terms of a security assessment. The numbers are not 2,000 but 1,250 to start. Basically, we are taking people from the previous administration that they were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.

Despite Trump’s reluctance, US immigration officials have conducted some screening interviews with refugees on Manus Island. However, these were suspended mid-run and the officials withdrew to the US, once it was announced that the US’ annual humanitarian refugee quota had already been fulfilled.

Those detained have been told that interviews will resume and that resettlement in the US is still on the table. However, whether the Trump administration ever had any serious intention to be party to a resettlement solution is now in doubt, as is Turnbull’s commitment to anything more than a domestic political win.

On Manus Island, the leaked transcripts arrived amid heightened tensions. Protests have been ongoing since Tuesday, when water and power services were withdrawn in the largest compound. Local police, detention centre guards and reportedly the Australian Federal Police are attempting to remove those deemed “prisoners” by Trump – something that Turnbull, perhaps tellingly, did not dispute.

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This latest insight into the international game of trading unwanted human beings compounds the frustration and sense of injustice that those trapped in Australia’s offshore detention system are experiencing.

Proof that Australia fails to see the humanity of refugees

Turnbull’s position appears to be that the people detained on Manus Island and Nauru are “good” and deserving of protection somewhere, but that his domestic political environment demands they must be treated like criminals.

In the call, Turnbull repeatedly refers to the people imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru as “economic refugees”. This pernicious framing is consistent with government messaging about “boat people” and “queue jumpers”.

In reality, no refugees are accepted on economic grounds under Australia’s rules. It is disingenuous of Turnbull to make such an inference about those detained in offshore detention, considering that almost 90% of those on Manus Island have been assessed as bona-fide refugees by both Australia and the UNHCR.

Turnbull’s indifference to human suffering is chilling, surprising even Trump:

We should do that too. You are worse than I am.

When two of the most powerful men in the world conspire to inflict further harm on some of the world’s most vulnerable to satisfy domestic agendas, we truly need to question whether the goals of the international community as constituted in the UN are being upheld by our elected officials.

Dehumanising refugees and treating them as the problem avoids any serious consideration of why people are displaced. This is where the international community should be working together.

The ConversationAdopting a punitive approach to those seeking protection not only goes against international law, but it is an insult to those that uphold Australia and the US as leading beacons for human rights and freedom.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.