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Australia Worries That Racial Attacks Will Deter Students From India

May 14, 2009

New Delhi — Concerned that racial attacks will undermine a multimillion-dollar campaign to attract Indian students to Australian universities, the Australian government plans to send police officers to visit India’s Australia-bound students in June to advise them about their personal safety and security, The Indian Express reported yesterday.

In the last six months, the Australian police have logged 500 cases of assaults on Indian students, and there are fears that incidents of mugging, racial abuse, and murder are on the rise there because of the economic meltdown and job losses, The Economic Times reported. An unnamed Indian diplomat said in March that Australia’s efforts to bolster its economy through Indian students’ tuition would fail if the attacks did not cease.

Indians make up almost 18 percent of Australia’s foreign-student population, the second-largest group after China, at 23.5 percent. Some 95,000 Indians enrolled at Australian institutions of higher education in the first 11 months of 2008.

Last month the police in Melbourne asked young Indians to “moderate their social behavior,” by not making conspicuous displays of wealth, such as laptop computers. But the secretary of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia criticized that advice as impractical and inadequate.

Police officers in Victoria, who have often been accused of not responding appropriately to racial attacks, said a new “helpline” service was being started to assist Indian victims of crime. But that measure drew criticism, as an inadequate response to racism in society, from the federation as well as members of the local Indian community. —Shailaja Neelakantan