Australia assures safety of Indian students after attacks (Roundup)

May 28th, 2009 - 9:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne/New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) The Australian government Thursday assured a worried India that it was taking a number of measures to ensure the safety of Indian students even as a 25-year-old Indian student, who was brutally assaulted by Australian teenagers a few days ago, slipped into coma.
Two Australian teenagers were arrested Thursday for badly beating an Indian student on a train.

Three attacks on Indian students in quick succession have triggered outrage in India. The first incident was reported May 9 while the most recent took place Monday.

Sravan Kumar Theerthala, a 25-year-old Indian student who was assaulted Sunday in Melbourne along with three other students, is battling for his life in intensive care unit in Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Theerthala, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, went to Melbourne to study two years ago. The attackers allegedly hurled racist abuses at Indian students and hit them with a screwdriver.

“Doctors are unclear about the prognosis. They are pessimistic about his chances of survival,” Anita Nair, India’s consul-general in Melbourne, told IANS.

Nair accompanied India’s High Commissioner to Australia Sujatha Singh, who had flown in from Canberra, to Melbourne where she visited the hospital in which Sravan Kumar was admitted. The Indian envoy also met the premier and deputy premier of Victoria state who assured them about various steps taken by the Australian authorities for improving the security of the international students. Over 430,000 international students visit Australia annually.

“They have told us about increased patrolling in areas where international and Indian students stay and patrolling on the trains,” said Nair.

Representatives of Indian students in Australia also met the Indian envoy in Melbourne.

The Australian government has launched a hotline, staffed by volunteers who are fluent in English and Hindi to provide support, information and advice to Indian students.

Nair said such attacks have been happening for over a year. The Indian mission in Australia has been in regular touch with the Australian authorities.

Another Indian student Baljinder Singh was robbed and stabbed in Melbourne Monday.

Singh had left a railway station when two men carrying weapons approached him and demanded money. As he searched through his bag to hand over his wallet he was stabbed in the abdomen, Herald Sun reported.

“They just laughed when they stabbed me in the stomach. They laughed at me… I was screaming ‘don’t kill me, don’t kill me’.

“Now there are lots of attacks. You can see that in the western suburbs,” he said.

Australian police Thursday arrested two teenagers over the beating of yet another Indian student on a Melbourne train.

Sourabh Sharma, 21, was beaten by a group of young men as he travelled on a train May 9, Herald Sun reported.

Sharma suffered a fractured cheek bone and a broken tooth in the attack, which was captured on closed circuit television cameras.

He said he was also racially abused and robbed during the attack.

In the wake of the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, an Australian police officer is also planning to travel to India to give “safety strategy tips” to prospective students on avoiding street violence in Australia, media reports in Australia said.

“I want to send a message loud and clear that international students are very welcome in this nation and Australia will not tolerate discrimination against or victimisation of any of our international students,” Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education Julia Gillard said in a statement in Australian parliament.

The minister also unveiled the plan to hold a round-table of international student representatives to discuss with the government issues affecting their study experience.

“As foreign minister, I’m appalled by these attacks and I condemn them absolutely. Australia takes very seriously its reputation as a safe destination for Indian students. Action is being taken.”

Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy underscored efforts by the Australian government to ensure safety of Indian students.

The attacks on Indian students have sparked outrage in India. India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Wednesday said he has asked the Australian authorities to ensure the safety of Indians and bring the culprits to justice.

There is some confusion over whether the attack was racially motivated.

Andrew Holloway, Victoria University’s vice-president for international students, has been quoted as saying that the attacks were not racist, but reflect the fact that Indian students often have part-time jobs and hence have to use public transport late at night.

According to Nair, there is some racist angle to the attack, but added cautiously that the attacks were aimed at not just Indian students, but at international students.

Incidents like these are set to affect the popularity of Australia as an education destination for Indian students.

According to Australian Education International, the enrolment of Indian students in Australian universities showed an increase of 38.9 percent from last year as on March 2009, when Australian universities had 75,000 Indian students enrolled in various courses.

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