Australia welcomes its first batch of Chinese students after the epidemic
Published: Dec 04, 2020 10:35 AM

Photo: courtesy of the interviewees

A commercial charter flight carrying 63 international students arrived in Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory on Monday. The international students, from Chinese mainland,Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and India, are the first to enter Australia since strict border controls were imposed by the country in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some Chinese students expressed increased concerns about the relationship between China and Australia, with one of them even saying he would not consider Australia as his first choice if he could reapply.  

“I was planning to, if I couldn’t come to Australia in February next year, apply for universities in Singapore,” one of the 63 international students on the charter flight to Charles Darwin University, studying business, told the Global Times Wednesday. “If I was given a second chance to apply, I would probably not consider Australia as my first choice."

The student, surnamed Wu, said that he had planned to enroll in February this year, but was forced to wait nearly 10 months before the opportunity arose to become one of the first international students to return to Australia.

Photo: courtesy of the interviewees

According to Wu, the flight was originally scheduled to take 70 Chinese students back to Australia in early November. However, due to some unknown reasons, the departure date was changed to November 29. 

International students from different countries and regions gathered in Singapore before taking a chartered flight to Darwin. Wu said that despite the inclusion of students from other countries and regions, students from Chinese mainland still accounted for about two-thirds of the total number.

Wu said that students on board must have taken a nucleic acid test (with a negative result) 72 hours before departing. Upon arriving in Darwin, they were transported by bus to a local facility for 14-day quarantine. During this period, they will also undergo another nucleic acid test.

Another Chinese student, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Thursday that the Australian quarantine environment is not as strict as in China because they are allowed to go outside of their rooms and mingle with other students in quarantine. 

Previous attempts by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the state of South Australia to bring students back to Australia, including through charter flights, have been thwarted by local resurgences of COVID-19.

Photo: courtesy of the interviewees

According to data released by the Australian Department of Education, more than 260,000 visas were issued to Chinese students in 2019. Chinese students make up about 38 percent of international students in Australia’s higher education programs and are one of the key pillars of the local international education industry.

On February 1, the Australian government announced a ban on people flying into the country from China before it closed its borders to all non-citizens and permanent residents in March. Since then, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other officials have repeatedly said they would consider allowing people from low-risk countries and regions to enter the country, but the ban on border closures has only been extended.

Wu said that before he arrived in Australia, he was concerned about Australia's negative attitude toward Chinese students. “The school is very enthusiastic and excited [about us coming back to study], but I really don't appreciate the current Australian government,” Wu commented.

The anonymous student also expressed his concern about the extensive racial discrimination in Australia, which has only become more prominent this year. “It must be admitted that in Australia, Chinese people will surely face some discrimination. For example, white people look at you with disdain or pass by quickly when they see Chinese people. Some of my friends here have also witnessed Chinese people being harassed by local white people.”

Despite the charter flight to Darwin being marked as a “good start” for international students, the 63 students were only a drop in the ocean — their final destination is not Melbourne, Canberra or Brisbane, the three Australian cities with the most international students. 

"I was lucky to catch the flight this time, but it was not worth enduring months of suffering." Another student, Zhang, who was also on the flight, told the Global Times Wednesday that he was almost ready to give up his studies in Australia and apply for a postgraduate program in Hong Kong. 

"The changing border policy of the Australian government and the deteriorating relationship between Australia and China really dampened my sense of expectation," Zhang added.