Malaysians Richard Augustin and Riya Selvaraj first came to Australia around 2016, seeking asylum for religious reasons.
- The couple has lived in Bendigo for three years, dependent on community groups for food and accommodation
- They are on temporary stay visas, meaning they can’t work or access ongoing government funding
- As a way of giving back to the community, they started posting cooking videos on YouTube
Now living in Bendigo and dependent on community groups for food and accommodation, given that their temporary stay visas preclude them from accessing work or any ongoing government funding, they have been trying to get access to permanent residency ever since.
“It’s called a bridging visa class C, so it’s no work rights, and we don’t have any payment from the government,” Mr Augustin said.
Despite their predicament, they have continued to look for ways to give back to the community that took them in.
When the couple first arrived in Bendigo three years ago they were homeless, and were planning to sleep over for one night before attending an Immigration appointment in Melbourne the following day.
“Then the next day we did receive an email from the Immigration Department saying ‘your appointment has been cancelled’,” Ms Selvaraj said.
Embracing the community
The couple stayed in Bendigo for a few nights sleeping in their car before being put in touch with Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services.
“From there we got the chance to stay in Bendigo and mix up with the community,” Ms Selvaraj said.
Since arriving, they have found a way to give back to their community, volunteering for initiatives like Bendigo Foodshare and The Old Church on the Hill.
During the pandemic, while they have mostly been confined to their home, the couple has launched a cooking YouTube page called R&R Channel.
The couple has been making a cooking video a week, sharing a range of recipes, sometimes filming for hours at a time.
“So we just using our smart phones and we using a mic stand as a camera tripod. Richard is very good at that,” Ms Selvaraj said.
“In our experience, the longest cooking video is eight hours — chocolate chip cookies.
“We try to correct all the mistakes, so that’s how we are still learning each and every video.”
More without support
Many more temporary visa holders across the country have also found themselves unable to work or access government funding due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services interim executive officer, Rosita Vincent, said the group had received a 75 per cent increase in calls for help, particularly from people on temporary work, spouse and study visas.
“So the frightening thing for people on a temporary visa is they’ve not been eligible for government support, so they don’t get any JobKeeper or JobSeeker if their work situation changes,” Ms Vincent said.
Ms Vincent said it was forcing people into “extreme poverty”.
“One call I received from a woman who had to leave work for a couple of weeks because she needed to isolate, and she was really afraid about how she was going to pay the rent the next week,” Ms Vincent said.
“I got a call from somebody who is sleeping in their car because they’ve already lost their home and nobody can help them.”
In a statement, a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said short-term funding was available to some visa holders, including access to up to $10,000 worth of superannuation for people working in Australia, and also a $7 million Red Cross emergency relief fund.
“The Australian Government is committed to protecting the health and safety of Australians, and has implemented a range of measures to support Australians and visa holders during the COVID-19 period,” the spokesperson said.
Ms Vincent said people like Mr Augustin and Ms Selvaraj had demonstrated how much value refugees and migrants could bring to communities when they were given the support they needed.
“They were in quite a difficult situation when we initially connected with them, and it’s been amazing to see them as they connect with the community, and then to see the benefit that has been on their mental health and their physical wellbeing as well,” Ms Vincent said.
The two are hoping to start working with the community to make cooking videos showcasing traditional recipes from different refugee groups when the pandemic restrictions ease.