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Australian Report Says Race Not to Blame for Foreign Student Assaults

  • Phil Mercer

Indian student Nitin Garg's relative Pritam Singh sits in an ambulance besides Garg's body, at the cargo terminal of international airport in New Delhi, India (File Photo)

Indian student Nitin Garg's relative Pritam Singh sits in an ambulance besides Garg's body, at the cargo terminal of international airport in New Delhi, India (File Photo)

An Australian government report on a series of violent attacks on foreign students in recent years says racism may not have been the main motive. Australia’s Institute of Criminology has found that attacks on foreign students, especially those from India, were probably the work of opportunistic criminals. However, critics have said that it is inconceivable that race was not a factor in some assaults and robberies.

The Australian Institute of Criminology studied more than 420,000 foreign students during a nine-year period and also examined police records. Researchers say it is Australia’s most comprehensive study of student victimization.

The survey found that visitors from India, China, South Korea, Malaysia and the United States were physically assaulted at significantly lower rates than the general population.

However, cases of robbery against Indian students were markedly higher than the national average and twice that for other international student groups.

The study examined a series of attacks on young Indians in Melbourne and Sydney between 2005 and 2009 that caused diplomatic friction between Canberra and New Delhi. India accused of Australia of not doing enough to reign in racist thugs it accused of targeting expatriates.

The Institute of Criminology has discounted race as a prime reason for the assaults. It believes Indians were targeted because their English language skills enabled them to get shift work in gas stations and restaurants, where they were often using public transport late at night.

“A lot of the robberies that we have seen that have contributed to their over-representation appear to be linked to the fact that they are working in industries that are trading late at night, that potentially have lower levels of security, which arguably are those that are traditionally targeted by robbers irrespective of racial motivation," said Jason Payne, the research manager at the Violence and Serious Crime Monitoring Program at the Institute of Criminology in Canberra. "There was also a double in the rate of robberies against students from an Indian background that occurred in locations like service stations, late-night trading convenience stores and in taxis or in and around taxi ranks.”

However, critics believe the study has ignored the significance that racial prejudice has in assaults on foreign students.

Jesse Marshall, the president of Australia’s National Union of Students, believes that bigotry must be a factor in some cases.

“When you have got Indian international students three times more likely than American international students to be assaulted on or near public transport, how can you say the color of that student’s skin has not had anything to do with the fact that they have been assaulted,” said Marshall.

The attacks on young Indians not only damaged Australia’s relationship with India but also hurt the reputation of the country’s $18 billion international education industry.

Since the series of attacks on Indian students, the government and the police have worked hard to improve security for the tens of thousands of young foreigners who travel to Australia to study each year.