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Economic Times of India

Indian Students Facing Attacks in Australia

The growing number of attacks on Indian students in Australia has become a big cause for concern at the Indian High Commission in Canberra. A senior diplomat at the High Commission told ET that in the last six months, there have been 500 cases of assault on Indian students, registered by the police authorities across Australia. There are fears that such incidents of muggings, theft, racial abuse, car jackings and even murder are on the increase because of the economic meltdown and loss of jobs. In fact, the Australian government's $3.5-million campaign to attract Indian students-in an effort to combat recession-could remain a non-starter if the issue of racial attacks is not addressed. An estimated 95,000 Indian students joined Australian institutions of higher education in the first 11 months of 2008. While officials at the Indian High Commission have asked the Indian government and Australian police authorities to take action, there's a view that Australian institutions should make more courses available in India, which students can attend at home. Meanwhile, in September 2008, the government of Victoria has established an overseas student experience taskforce to investigate and report on issues facing overseas students in the state, including safety. "This will feed into the development of an international education strategy to be released later in 2009," said Gemma Buxton, media adviser to Jacinta Allan, minister for skills and work-force participation. "International students are highly valued members of our community, who make a vast contribution to our economy," she added. One of the specific measures already taken in Victoria is an effort by the police in the city of Melbourne asking young Indian expatriates and students to moderate their social behaviour. Indian students are also being greeted at the Melbourne airport on arrival by government officials. "Most of the instructions issued by the authorities are quite ridiculous. They have asked Indian students not to make a display of wealth including items such as laptops . Most university campuses make it compulsory for students to use laptops. We don't see too much of positive developments coming out of the police reference groups. In fact, we are quite disappointed with the Indian High Commission's inaction as well," says Gautam Gupta, an audiologist in Australia and the secretary of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA). "The Indian students are a comparatively new community in Australia and that's why we are targeted in racial attacks. We feel that once we get more established professionally, we will be able to counter this. For now, it is important to be united and create strong networks among ourselves. Asking students not to take up jobs at night will not work, because there are no jobs available during the day and students need to support themselves," he adds. The government of New South Wales has also established a ministerial task-force on international education, which will focus on student safety and welfare. Various colleges in different provinces of Australia are taking steps to ensure safety of foreign students. "Our campus is well-lit at night and there are Security cameras operating in all the main car parks. Security staff are on duty 24 hours a day and any student who feels nervous can telephone for a security guard to escort them," says Michael A Opie, manager (international students) at the Charles Darwin University.

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