A Bhutanese student writes to Australian PM

Dear ScoMo (Hon’ble Prime Minister),
First of all let me share a brief history of how my country, Bhutan, handled the first positive case of COVID-19 in the country. He was an American tourist who tested positive while on his sojourn. When he visited the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital In Thimphu (the capital) and complained of all the symptoms indicative of COVID-19, what do you think happened next? Did Bhutan criminalise him and discriminate him just like Australia did? No. In fact, His Majesty The King of Bhutan personally checked in to see to it that our American Guest got all the possible care, help, and support that he was entitled to as a human being; no matter whether he was an American tourist or not.

I live in Perth, Western Australia, but I always keep in touch with news back home. The day I Iearnt that Bhutan had one positive case of COVID-19, it was also the day I learned that His Majesty was right there ensuring that our American guest was given all the love and care he deserved as a fellow being. It was with genuine love and care that Bhutan saw him off back home in America minus the virus and with a loving bond.

In Bhutan, we take care of our guests. Our Kings, from the last 113 years, have taught the Bhutanese to be selfless and that’s is how the philosophy of Gross National Happiness was born under the reign of His Majesty The Great Fourth. He is known as the Bodhisattva King. His noble son, who took care of the American Guest, is His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, fondly called the ‘People’ King’. At a time like this Bhutanese should be actually celebrating a national occasion on the joyous account of the birth of our second Royal Sibling, but we did not, because the King was busy strategizing plans to prevent the spread of COVID -19 amongst his people. Bhutan forgoed a happy birthday to forge a healthier future.

Dear ScoMo, when you announced, most vehemently, on April the 4th, 2020, that International Students should go back home, I heard many people say that it was not surprising of ScoMo for reasons I really do not know but well; I was so hurt and surprised that a Prime Minister could make such a blatant statement in a press conference.

I am an international student in Perth. Having done my Masters in Community Development for the last two years at Murdoch University, I have contributed near to AUD 60,000 as tuition fees and almost AUD 16000 in tax. I have my children whose fees I have paid equally in double the amount depending on courses offered. Mr. ScoMo, when you say that international students should have come prepared you should also have realised that while they came prepared and paid their fees and taxes on time, they also had to depend on some causal and part-time jobs to sustain themselves during their time living here in Australia. This was the sunny part that was advertised to attract international students. I am such an example. I had the option to study anywhere in the world but I thought Australia provided one of the best options – being a multi-cultural society.

Now, when the international students hear your address to the nation, everyone goes dumb, as they did when you made the above declaration. Then they start to think and analyse and realise that you made one of the most racist speeches, particularly in the midst of such a crisis, when people deserve all your love and care, even though you didn’t have to show it, you could have expressed it.

Dear Mr. ScoMo, international students contributed AUD 32 billion in 2018 to Australia’s economy as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Anne-Marie Lansdown, the then Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive, said that international students brought vast benefits to Australians by contributing to the entire Australian economy; generating jobs, supporting wages, and lifting the living standards of Australians. A very powerful quote from Lansdown sums it up: “Australians should be fiercely proud of this incredibly important industry. They should also be fiercely protective of it.”

So where is the part about protecting international students when they need it the most? It is so disheartening to hear you say that they should make their way home when the the going is while you didn’t mind having them here when the going was good.

According to 2019 statistics, international students contributed AUD 34.9 billion a year to Australia; supporting more than 240,000 jobs across the country. The Chief of Universities then mentioned the important role that international students continue to play in the Australian economy.

Everyone agrees that there is so much more contributed. More than anything, Australians benefit from powerful personal, cultural, diplomatic, and trade ties. It was also known that when international students returned home they joined the global network of alumni and those who stay prove to be highly skilled graduates beneficial to the nation’s economy. As of recent updates, international students contribute upto 130,000 skilled migrants to the workforce, injecting upto AUD 8.7 billion GDP in the Australian economy.

Now when the Australian economy is affected severely by the pandemic, you are all up to protect your citizens and residents. You forgot that those international students who contributed to the larger chunk of your GDP have now lost their jobs, are left homeless, and are not in any position to pay their rent. Their positions in the workplace are given to citizens and residents. And then there comes the announcement that international students should now make their way home.

So Mr. ScoMo, on what humanitarian and economic grounds did you make your statement? That international students should make their way home especially when you know that almost all the transit routes are in lockdown? I am curious to know whether you made just a casual remark or whether you really made that statement intentionally. Did you even realize the kind of panic you created amongst all the international students here in Australia and their family members back home across the world? The day was almost like a Doomsday; as if the entire international students got immediately infected, by another kind of virus, probably more poisonous.

Personally, it didn’t affect me much but by virtue of being a community leader, I had to bear the biggest brunt of the announcement. Thanks to your Doomsday Declaration, I have answered more calls during this aftermath than I have my entire lifetime. And you stand answerable.

Karma Choden

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