Saturday, June 26, 2010

AUSTRALIA: Indian murder inflames tensions

The stabbing to death of Indian accountancy graduate Nitin Garg in Melbourne on 2 January has further inflamed tensions between India and Australia and attracted media coverage from around the world. SM Krishna, India's Foreign Minister, warned last week that continued violence against Indian students in Australia could damage relations between the two countries. Krishna called for immediate action by Australian authorities to protect Indian citizens.

The Indian government has issued a travel warning advising its students to take precautions while living in Australia, and especially in Melbourne where many of the attacks over the past two years have occurred. Krishna said the issue had "constantly figured in our parliament" and again urged Australia to take corrective action.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith held talks with Krishna last week. Smith said later the two had agreed they did not want the issue to "disturb or get in the way of what [Krishna} described as an excellent relationship".

Garg was stabbed by a member of a gang of youths while walking through a park at night on his way to work in a burger franchise and died as he reached the shop. His murder followed a string of attacks against Indians that triggered street protests by hundreds of students in Sydney and Melbourne last June.

Indian students account for 19% of total international enrolments in Australia, taking 117,000 places in universities and vocational education colleges in the 12 months to October 2009. But they are mostly concentrated in working-class suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, often in highly multicultural areas some of whose inhabitants object to their presence, sometimes quite violently.

Department of Immigration figures reveal a significant drop in the number of Indian students applying to study in Australia. From July to October last year, student visa applications from India fell by 28% compared with the same period in 2008. But this had less to do with widespread media coverage of attacks on students in the Indian media and more a result of a tightening of Australia's immigration rules.

An Immigration spokesman said that while about 6.5% of applications from Indian students in 2008 had been rejected, last year more than a third, or just over 7,000 applications, had been turned down.

"We were looking at combating fraud and misrepresentation in the student visa caseload," the spokesman said.

In a keynote address to the World Universities Forum last weekend in Davos, in Switzerland, Professor Simon Marginson condemned the Australian government for failing to do more to protect international students. Marginson, from the centre for the study of higher education at the University of Melbourne, said the government was "in denial".

"Australia has taken little action to tackle the problem of international student safety, while denying racism is a factor. This undermines statements that Australia is a non-racist country. Because non-racism lies not in colour blindness - in pretending there are no issues of cultural discrimination, in abstract pretences that everyone is the same - but in the capacity to identify and eliminate actual racism. Freedom from all forms of discrimination and abuse is basic to student security."

His address is published in this week's Research and Commentary section while Dale Down also comments on the issue in our Features section.

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