Malaysian student thrown out of Perth rental over unfounded coronavirus fears

PHOTO: ABC News

It may be better to be safe than sorry but one Australian landlord took it too far when he kicked a Malaysian student out for no reason other than her recent trip back home.

The student, identified only as Helen, told ABC News that she had travelled to Malaysia on Jan 24 to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family. When she returned to her Perth home on Feb 4, she found that the locks had been changed.

A sign on the door read: "House in lockdown due to coronavirus.

"Due to your failure to stay in contact with me with World Health Organisation GLOBAL EMERGENCY over coronavirus you are no longer welcome in this house [sic]."

Her landlord also asked Helen to contact him, writing that he had attempted to contact her "many times without success".

Helen had not received any of his messages while she was in Malaysia, she explained. It was only after returning to Australia that she discovered the messages.

One of the texts read: "You made a decision to travel back home for the Chinese New year when when [sic] there was an outbreak of coronavirus.

"The World Health Organisation has declared a global emergency and I now have made a decision to change locks on the house and put your belongings outside as I am concerned for my welfare and family and friends."

PHOTO: ABC News

When her landlord did not respond to any calls or texts, she ended up driving to her friend's house to spend the night.

According to Helen, who is staying with her friend for the time being, the police could not take any action as she did not have a formal rental agreement with her landlord.

The pair had made a verbal agreement for Helen to pay AUD$86 (S$80.30) in rent per week excluding other bills and expenses.

While most of her belongings were left outside by her landlord, some items were left behind in the house. But she is too scared to pick them up, she said.

"I feel so sad and confused because I didn't do anything," she told the Australian broadcaster. "I haven't been to China [so] why do they think I have the virus?"

"I understand what they are worried about but it doesn't mean that all from Asian countries will get the virus."

Several countries including Australia have imposed travel restrictions against arrivals from China, which has over 60,000 confirmed cases of the virus.

But there have not been any restrictions enacted against travellers from Malaysia.

Malaysia has 19 confirmed cases (as of Feb 13) while Australia has 15 confirmed cases as of today (Feb 14).

In a statement on Feb 13, the Consulate-General of Malaysia in Perth called Helen's eviction "unprecedented and unfortunate" and advised Malaysians in similar situations to lodge a report with the Consulate-General office and the Malaysian Student Council of Australia (Masca).

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan also spoke out against the eviction in a Facebook post, writing: "Using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse for racist behaviour is disgraceful and un-Australian. This is not the Western Australian way."

Let me be absolutely clear about this: Using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse for racist behaviour is disgraceful...

Posted by Mark McGowan on Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, other Chinese-Australians have also reported an uptick in racist and xenophobic behaviour.

A surgeon in Gold Coast, Rhea Liang, recounted in a tweet on Jan 30 that a patient had refused to shake her hand, citing the coronavirus as the reason.

Journalist Iris Zhao also said that a woman in a supermarket had told her to "stay home" and "stop spreading the virus".

According to Yun Jiang, a research officer at the Australian National University, and co-editor of the China Neican newsletter, the virus outbreak had not "turned people into racists", but simply brought existing racist and xenophobic sentiments to the surface.

"People who perhaps have existing prejudice suddenly have an excuse to act out with racist behaviour and remarks," she told news.com.au.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus virus, visit here.

kimberlylim@asiaone.com

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