Australia Minister To Take Student Safety Message

Australia minister to take student safety message

July 19, 2009

MELBOURNE—Australia's immigration minister said Sunday he will visit India this week to reassure parents and authorities that the country is not racist and remains a safe place to study.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the government wanted to counter negative publicity on the sub-continent about a recent wave of attacks on Indian students in Australian cities.

“There?s been a lot of concern inside India and I think there?s been some fairly hysterical reporting of what?s occurred,” Evans told Sky News.

“So part of what I intend to do on this visit is to try and reassure Indians that we?re a safe place to study, that we?re a multicultural society and we don?t have racist attitudes to people.”

Evans' trip follows a visit by a high-level delegation of police and government officials to Indian cities earlier this month delivering similar safety assurances.

Some 95,000 Indians are studying in Australia after a university publicity blitz targeting the huge Asian country's growing middle class.

However, a series of attacks triggered street protests last month, straining diplomatic ties and casting a shadow over an education industry which generates 15.5 billion dollars (12.4 billion US) in annual exports.

Many students have complained about being targeted by gangs. The issue came to a head in late May when student Sravan Kumar Theerthala was left comatose after being stabbed with a screwdriver during an attack in Melbourne.

Theerthala has since emerged from his coma and is undergoing rehabilitation.

Authorities have played down any racial aspect to the attacks, saying the jobs that Indian students take to support their education mean they are often in dangerous areas or on public transport late at night.

Evans said police were working on the problem but educating Indian students about safety in Australia could also help.

“We?ve had a number of students attacked in areas at say four o?clock in the morning where quite frankly most people would stay clear of,” he said.

“It?s about making sure they understand how Australia works, what is good and safe practice and what?s not.”

Despite the negative publicity, Evans said applications from Indian students had not declined and actually rose slightly in June.

“So I think we're having some success in convincing people that these are isolated criminal activities and not a reflection of Australians' attitudes to Indian people,” he said.

Evans said that during his three day visit, he would meet a number of Indian officials, including the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi.