Racism is deadly for international students

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On July 1 the Age reported the federal government had understated the number of international students who had died in Australia during 2008. The government had reported 51 deaths — a disturbingly high number. But the real figure was "at least 54" and is probably higher, the Age said.

Nearly half of the deaths were of Indian students, despite Indians making up only 20% of the international student population.

The National Coroners Information System suppressed the details of international students' deaths, despite previous promises the information would be released. A request for the details by the Age was rejected.

Of the 51 student deaths the government admitted, 34 were due to "unknown causes". The government reported no suicides. However, the Age claimed the 51 deaths included at least three suicides and a further three students who died from violent assaults.

Attacks on international students in Australia, particularly Indian students, are nothing new.

Sujatha Singh, India's High Commissioner to Australia, said the attacks had been escalating for about four years. Politicians have paid little attention to the problem until now when international outrage threatens to damage the lucrative international student market. Education for full-fee paying international students is Australia's third highest export earner.

Universities have become increasingly reliant on exploiting full-fee paying international students to make up for government funding cuts. To protect the $15.5 billion international education market, the government has attempted to cover up and play down the extent of racist attacks.

On May 29, Victorian police deputy commissioner Kieran Walsh denied that violent attacks against Indian students were motivated by racism.

"Well, we don't believe it's deliberately target [sic] because of race," he told Lateline. "We think it's more opportunistic because they are very passive and very quiet natured people and, as I say, they do carry valuable items such as iPods and mobile phones, and they are what we would term as to be relatively soft targets for people wanting to steal those things."

This blanket generalisation about Indian students is itself racist. The suggestion that Indian students are targeted because of their possessions places blame and responsibility on the victims.

As most young people today carry money, mobile phones and an iPod at all times it is absurd to suggest international students are being targeted simply because they are carrying them too. Police also advised Indian students not to speak their native language loudly in public places — yet if the attacks were not racially motivated then this would be unnecessary.

A large number of international students are detained by immigration authorities, the July 15 Australian said. Thirty-six students are now held in detention for alleged breaches of study visas. The average length of detention for international students is 81 days. More than 2600 students have been detained since 2001.

Breaches of study visa conditions can include poor attendance and failing exams. However, a spokesperson for the immigration department told the Australian none of the current detainees were detained "simply for breaching attendance requirements or failing to meet minimum course requirements".

International students are systematically discriminated against in Australia and treated as cash-cows rather than people. They pay huge fees for education, yet they are still ineligible to receive the student discounts on public transport and must pay the full price for healthcare and medication.

International students should have the same rights as other students. To stop these racist attacks and prevent international students from being exploited we need to work together to campaign against racism on campus and in society.