Yesterday I was in Carlton when Daniel Andrews held his press conference. I got a call from my sister-in-law saying “you are to be locked down, you can’t go out”. I rushed home, and there were police everywhere. There were no interpreters, no social workers, no medical workers, just lots of police. It was a very forceful way of handling it. Some single mothers who don’t speak much English were asking “why are they here? What have we done wrong?”
I am studying legal practice at RMIT University. I want to be a human rights lawyer. Now I have a case study right in front of me in my home.
My name is Hiba Shanino and I am 21 years old. I have lived in the Flemington public housing estate all my life. My parents are both from Eritrea. They arrived in Australia as single parents with children. My mum came as a refugee and my father went to Sweden as the first place of immigration, then he came to Australia to join his family. Then they met and married and had me.
I went to Mount Alexander secondary college in Flemington, and I was working as an assistant in a real estate agency in Yarraville before Covid stopped me from working.
I was overseas earlier this year, in Eritrea then Dubai, when the virus was first starting to spread. I came home, and suddenly we were all in lockdown. It was Ramadan, and because of Covid that was different this year. So was Eid. Instead of going out and gathering, we had religious celebrations in our homes.
People need to understand that here on the estate our experience of Covid is very different from people who live in the suburbs. I don’t want to take away from anyone else’s experience, but just to point out that it has been different for us.
We live in very confined spaces here. Most people have a two or three bedroom flat, and many families have five children in that space. There is no back yard. There is Debney Oval next to the estate, so we can go down there, but no private outdoor space for kids.
As well, right from the beginning, the police have been patrolling the area within the estate. Some people from the rest of Flemington come through the estate, walking their dogs or whatever, and they are not policed as we are policed. We are over-policed.
We knew about Covid and we were taking care, but all the information we were given in the flats was in English, and many of our community might speak a bit of English, but they don’t read or write English. In our building, one lift broke down, so we had just one for the whole tower. My sister contacted the Department of Housing, but nothing was done. There were hand sanitiser dispensers, but they ran out and were not replaced.
We have a community here that is very vulnerable and very fragile. People come from war-torn countries. A lot of people have mental health issues. A lot of people have problems with substance abuse. So this forceful approach is very confronting for our community. Today, there are social workers on the estate and interpreters, but last night there was no one to support the community through this. Only police.
They are beginning to move through the buildings now to test people. Food packages were delivered last night, and the police are saying that people can go down to collect them. Many people in our community don’t know that they can refuse to be tested.
We knew people were getting sick over the last week. I heard from a couple of people who had been notified they were close contacts of someone who had Covid.
There are two sides to how we are feeling right now. Mixed with the sense of outrage is a bit of relief – that the government is paying attention. And we do believe that we should be locked down, that this is an important health issue. We have a lot of people here who are vulnerable, and a lot of elderly people, so now it’s good that there is an awareness of what is going on in our community, and some help.
But Daniel Andrews should understand that he can’t just put immediate lockdown on a community, when other suburbs got hours or days’ notice. For us it was immediate.
Now we have parents who can’t go to work. We can’t leave. There is a strain on us economically. There is a strain on our mental health. This is going to have a domino effect on our community.
We are encouraging people to get tested. We are saying: ‘Hey, listen. We are all in this together. We have to support each other”. This is the most important time for community spirit. But at the same time people are dealing with the effects of last night, the shock of it, the trauma.