UNSW Law students have undertaken a ground-breaking study, which found that international students are at high risk of exploitation from Sydney landlords.

The report titled No Place Like Home is authored by the UNSW Human Rights Clinic – an experiential learning program which provides senior law students with the opportunity to gain practical experience working as a human rights lawyer for a term.

The clinic is the first of its kind in any Australian law school. Under the supervision of leading human rights lawyers within the Faculty, students undertake real-world cases and reports. 

“I learnt to write in a format and style that is somewhat foreign to what I was used to in law school,” says Belle Anais, a student intern at the clinic.

Belle’s role involved preparing briefings for government departments and local councils on the findings and recommendations from the report. She said she developed a knack for emphasising particular points to make the research compelling.

The No Place Like Home report saw students, like Belle, undertake an 18-month investigation into the exploitive practices of private landlords. 

Drawing on the responses of focus groups and interviews at multiple universities across Sydney, the report found that many international students were subjected to overcrowding, harassment and sudden evictions. 

Philippa Meikle was one of the students participating in the interviewing process. She says the experience has equipped her with strong interview skills.

“I had never done proper interviewing before and hadn’t appreciated just how much work it takes! I learnt a lot about clear and effective communication, asking open-ended questions and accepting help from others.

“Teamwork makes the dream work, but it’s not always easy going.”

The reward for Philippa came when the clinic did its final review of the report.

“Seeing what we had achieved over the space of a few months, compared to what we had at the beginning, was pretty awesome and inspirational!”

Laura Melrose worked alongside Philippa as a student investigator. For six months, she researched and drafted sections of the report as well as helping organise the focus groups.

“I was nervous at first, but the clinic allowed me to develop these skills and it benefited me greatly,” she says. 

“My experience working on this report was the perfect crystallisation of my studies so far, and a much-needed confirmation that I was exactly where I wanted to be. After five years of studying law, it was invigorating to finally do something practical with real-world impact.”

Laura says that during her time at the clinic, she learnt a lot about project management, research and human rights advocacy, as well as writing concisely on complicated topics.

“The experience I gained working on this project is invaluable to me. I look forward to working on many more projects like this in my career. I’ve gained an understanding of the challenges of working with marginalised or exploited people, and the importance of centring their voice.

“It’s crucial to remember on projects like these to work with the people you want to help –not for them.”