Some attacks racist, police in Australia admit amid fresh attacks (Roundup)

June 9th, 2009 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 9 (IANS) Victoria state’s police chief Tuesday admitted that some attacks on Indian students in Australia are “racially motivated” even as Indian community leaders and the New South Wales police held a crisis meet after two more Indian men were attacked.

The southeastern state’s Chief Commissioner of Police Simon Overland told the media in Melbourne that some of the robbery attacks are “racially motivated” and others are “opportunistic”.

“Whatever the motivation, they (the attacks) are not okay. violence is not okay, being robbed is not okay,” he said.

He also said that there is no place for racism in the community, according to the transcript of Overland’s informal meet and greet with 50 members of Melbourne’s multilingual media.

In the past one month, there have been at least 11 attacks on Indian students, leading to outrage in India. Representatives of about 90,000 Indians studying here took out a protest march here Sunday.

Asked if police used excessive force in breaking up a protest by Indian students in Melbourne last weekend, Overland said he watched from the Police Operations Centre and believed that what he saw was entirely appropriate.

He said there was some force used after the students were given the opportunity for the last time to leave the traffic intersection and they refused to do so. He said students were moved on because the intersection needed to be cleared for peak-hour traffic.

Police in Victoria are taking various initiatives to strengthen ties with culturally diverse communities, including Indians, he said.

Leaders of Indian community and officials of the New South Wales police had a meeting after a stand-off in the Sydeny suburb of Harris Park, where about 200 Indian students Monday night protested against perceived police apathy after two Indian men were attacked by ethnic Lebanese.

During the protest lasting until the early hours of Tuesday, three ethnic Lebanese were assaulted. There were no charges laid and no victims needed hospital treatment in the overnight attacks.

“I don’t think there’s any suggestion that they (attacks) are racially motivated. Certainly it would appear to us that they were opportunistic and that this is an area of Harris Park where there’s a very large Indian community,” said Robert Redfern, police superintendent of the Parramatta local command.

However, Indian student Ajay Kumar told the local media that he joined the protest after being a victim of assaults and to demand more police protection.

“I never come back home at night time. If I finish my work, I stay there. Why? Because I know if I come back, someone smash me, someone take my money”, Kumar said.

Revenge attacks by Indian overseas students overnight in Sydney and Melbourne are sparking fears of inter-communal tensions in the two cities, which are home to over 200 nationalities, including the 200,000-odd Indian diaspora.

Michael McDermott, councillor for Harris Park and surrounding suburbs, was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “There is an element of racial targeting and to not think that would be burying our heads in the sand a wee bit.

“There’s often an underlying tension between different ethnic groups but within Parramatta we’ve had a very, very good track record of working with those groups to celebrate it. It really saddens me that there’s tensions there at present,” McDermott told the newspaper.

There have been a spate of attacks in recent weeks, which overseas Indian students insist are racially motivated and police are not doing enough to stop them.

Jimit Shah, 26, told the local media: “I just came out the station and I [was] just near to my house, and I just see some of the Indians behind me, and suddenly some Lebanese come over there, and just they hit the Indian people, and they are my brothers.”

Elie Nassif, a spokesman for the New South Wales Lebanese Community Council, has said that there has been tension in the Parramatta and Harris Park areas between Lebanese and Indian communities and the issue needs to be addressed.

“Whether we like it or not, it is happening, but as community leaders we should work together to wipe all this [out],” Nassif told ABC.

Meanwhile, in yet another tit-for-tat, a 20-year-old man was stabbed once in the neck and twice in the arm in the St Albans suburb of Victoria Monday after allegedly racially abusing a group of Indian students, The Age newspaper reported.

“There is a danger this will become like a chain reaction with the victim becoming the perpetrator. We don’t want to get to that,” Sam Afra, chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, told The Age.

Police reiterate that Indian overseas students are more vulnerable and likely to be victims of crime because of working late and travelling on public transport late at night and in the early hours of the morning.

Police have stepped up their own patrols and have begun disbanding groups of young Indian men, mostly overseas Indian students, patrolling Melbourne’s suburban railway stations, asking them not to take security measures into their own hands.

The attacks have received widespread coverage in India, damaging Australia’s reputation as a friendly and safe study destination and straining bilateral ties.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith Tuesday told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that Indian students can come to Australia and not have to worry about their safety and security.

“We want very much to bring the perpetrators to justice, whatever their motivation, but also ensure that we’re doing everything we can to put at ease the concerns of Indian mums and dads whose sons and daughters are far away in Australia.”

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