Manmohan speaks to Rudd, seeks assurance on Indians’ safety in Australia (Intro Roundup)

May 29th, 2009 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi/Melbourne, May 29 (IANS) With more attacks being reported on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday spoke to his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd and urged him to take all possible steps to ensure the security of Indians in Australia.
Amid outrage and concern in India at the wave of allegedly racist attacks on Indian students, the Australian government assured India that a slew of steps, including increased patrolling and setting up of a hotline, have been taken to ensure the safety of over 80,000 Indian students in the country.

Indian students in Melbourne are deeply concerned over the spate of attacks that has left one of them battling for life while another recuperates from a stab injury.

The friends and acquaintances of the 25-year-old Sravan Kumar Theerthala, who was attacked with a screwdriver over the weekend, expressed their concern outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he is admitted.

“We are not feeling safe basically in Australia, we are not feeling safe at all,” one of them told the Herald Sun.

Another Indian said: “They told us that it is a multicultural country, you know, but after living here for three years, I will just say it is a multi-racism country you know.”

The latest incident which came to light is of Indian student Rajesh Kumar who sustained burn injuries after a petrol bomb was thrown into his apartment in Sydney. This incident took the number of such assaults in Australia to four in the past three weeks.

India conveyed its concerns when Rudd and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called their counterparts, Manmohan Singh and S.M. Krishna respectively; and sought assurances about the safety of Indian students.

“He (Smith) assured me that Indians would be protected from such attacks and the culprits would be brought to justice,” Krishna told reporters at his house in Bangalore.

“Australia is a peace-loving country. I think it is an isolated incident. I told the minister (Smith) to ensure the safety of Indians studying there. Measures are being taken to prevent such racial attacks against our students,” the new foreign minister added.

Australian authorities have conveyed, their clear commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of Indian students in Australia, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash told reporters in New Delhi.

In Melbourne, India’s High Commissioner to Australia Sujatha Singh and Consul General Anita Nair met John Brumby, the premier of Victoria state, and his ministers and conveyed to them the need to rebuild students’ confidence in the host country.

“It was conveyed to them that Indian students have been feeling that vicious attacks against them have been increasing and that there is an urgent need to reassure them,” Vishnu Prakash said.

Sravan Kumar is being given the best possible medical treatment though his condition continues to be serious, the spokesperson said.

The Indian envoy met Sravan Kumar and other students who had been injured in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Indian high commissioner in Canberra as well as the consuls general in Sydney and Melbourne have also taken a slew of cautionary measures and put a list of dos and don’ts on their websites.

The websites advise students on how to report incidents, even of a minor nature, to enable the Indian officials to take up their specific complaints with the concerned Australian authorities.

A guide for prospective students planning to go to Australia is also under preparation.

The external affairs ministry also called Australian High Commissioner John McCarthy in New Delhi and urged him to take concrete steps to prevent repetition of such incidents that have cast a shadow over Australia’s reputation as a destination for foreign students.

India conveyed “the deep anguish and continuing concern” about the students’ welfare in Australia, the spokesperson said.

It was conveyed to the Australian high commissioner that continuing sense of unease and insecurity for Indian students in Australia can have an adverse effect in a sector that holds much promise, he said.

Certain steps that the Australian side could take, in addition to those already initiated, were also discussed and conveyed to the high commissioner, he added.

The Australian envoy assured that the state government of Victoria has taken a number of steps to ensure that these attacks do not take place again.

He, however, differed with the growing perception that these attacks were racist in nature.

“I have not seen the evidence that they were racist, but I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t discount it. Some racism exists in Australia, it’s appalling, we condemn it,” McCarthy told reporters after the meeting.

He added that the Australian police had made several arrests in the attacks.

Australian police officers have said these attacks were not driven by racial hostility, but India’s High Commissioner Sujatha Singh Friday said: “Our students feel that the attacks on some of them have been motivated racially.”

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