Faheem’s* hours at work have been cut from about 70 a week to just 12 since the pandemic started.
With way less money coming in, the father has been forced to tell his extended family back in South Sudan yet again that he can’t send anywhere near as much cash home as he used to.
And that’s the best-case scenario. Some weeks he can’t send any at all.
Depending on what was needed, Faheem used to send between $100 to $500 a month.
But since the pandemic, he’s only able to send about $20 on occasion. Usually it’s to his mum, who’s living in a refugee camp.
Not being able to provide the support they need is agonising.
“When I came to Australia, the people I left behind were suffering. And that’s the reason I came here. I had the opportunity to come here, and the others didn’t, and they’re still suffering,” he said.
“I spoke to my mum yesterday [and she told me my family] need money for the hospital and I had to tell her we were in hardship because of this disease.”
Faheem worries his family could go without food if he isn’t able to help.(ABC News: Emma Machan)
It’s not only Faheem’s hours that have been slashed.
His wife’s hours have also been cut back.
“It’s like not making anything,” the father said.
If Faheem’s situation were to get even worse, he may not be able to send any money to his family at all.
He worries they would go without food.
“Sometimes they eat only maize,” he said.
There’s help out there. Here’s where to look
Faheem’s story is only one of many, thanks to the pandemic’s impact on Australia’s economy.
It illustrates the impact that job cuts and losses can have on entire families.
And migrants tend to be the most vulnerable to loss of employment and wages in any economic crisis.
Even though these remittance payments sent abroad are often quite small, they’re incredibly important.
The UN estimates three-quarters of them are used to cover essentials like food, medical expenses, school fees or housing for families abroad.
So what can be done to keep remittances flowing during the pandemic?
Consumer Action Law Centre financial counsellor Shungu Patsika said there was help out there for those in need.
For citizens and permanent residents, he recommended getting in touch with Centrelink to start out with.
For temporary visa holders, Mr Patsika suggested contacting the Red Cross first.
“They provide emergency relief for asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and others who don’t have access to other support,” he explained.
“But be mindful that there are assessment criteria and support is provided on a case-by-case basis, depending on their capacity.
“There are also migrant support services that you can contact as well, like the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.
“If you’re on a temporary visa, we recommend speaking to your embassy or consulate to see whether they can give you any assistance as a citizen of that country.
“And if you’re a student, contact your student welfare office to see what support they can provide.”
From this point, Mr Patsika recommends thinking about decreasing payments, like Faheem has had to do, or deferring payments until there is work available again.
But finding the cash to send isn’t the only problem out there
Like Faheem, Violet Langan also sends money to help her family in Fiji.
But while Faheem has lost most of his shifts and is really struggling financially, Aunty Violet, a Queensland Pacific Islands community elder, is managing to get the money together.
Aunty Violet Langan sends home about $100 every week at the moment.(ABC News: Yasmin Jeffery)
She’s actually sending more than ever before.
“When I first came out here over 30 years ago I was sending back maybe $100 a month,” the 61-year-old from Meadowbrook said.
Before the pandemic started, she was still sending around about this amount, although the exact amount depended on whether her siblings, nieces and nephews needed food, medicine or help with school costs.
Now she’s sending back about $400 every month. It’s a big increase and it makes money tight, but for now, she has a stable income.
Aunty Violet, who is a community coordinator in youth empowerment and engagement, said the reason why was simple.
“I can’t not think of family back home,” she explained.
Aunty Violet knows the money she makes in Australia and the money she sends back home will be crucial to both economies.
Aunty Violet’s family has started planting food in Togoru, pictured, after losing work during coronavirus.(Supplied: Aunty Violet Langan)How to make sure the money actually arrives during COVID
Coronavirus has drastically impacted the amount of work available in Fiji.
Aunty Violet said family members who had lost work during the pandemic had returned to home villages and started planting food.
Aunty Violet sends money to Fiji so her family can afford food, education and medicine.(Supplied: Aunty Violet Langan)
But they still need support — more than ever.
A lack of digital connectivity and coronavirus restrictions have got in the way of Aunty Violet getting money to family.
At a time when her siblings needed cash for diabetes medication early on in the pandemic, she said they had to wait two weeks for it because money transfer shops were closed in Fiji, so there was no way the money could actually be collected.
She’s also faced high transfer fees.
There are ways to cut costs on the remittance transactions themselves and to make sure the money being sent makes it overseas given all the uncertainty right now.
“Check out moneysmart.gov.au and look at the information on sending money overseas,” Mr Patsika said.
“It explains the different ways money can be sent overseas, how to compare exchange rates for transfers, what to do if you have any issues sending money overseas, and it also has information specific to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Aunty Violet’s cash transfers are now making it to her family in Fiji on time and she’s spending less on remittances themselves compared to before the pandemic after teaching herself how to transfer online.
Don’t feel like wading through all this advice alone? Ask the experts
Mr Patsika says there are financial counsellors out there like him who are always happy to help anyone struggling with issues like these.
And for anyone worried about finding an expert who understands the need to send money home?
Financial abuse during the pandemic
For the five years Rosie* and her ex were together, she had no say over their money. As the pandemic drags on, more and more people are reporting family violence — including financial abuse.
“A lot of financial counsellors [in Australia] do come from culturally and linguistically diverse communities,” Mr Patsika explained.
“But regardless, financial counsellors are trained to be culturally sensitive. And by and large, they would be across the reality of remittances.
“So you’re more than welcome to speak to any financial counsellor to see what your options are. Any financial counsellor will be non-judgmental in their approach.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
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