A NEW helpline has been launched to assist Indian international students, especially those who are victims of crime.
The helpline is a joint effort between the Western Police Reference Group, local universities and Indian interest groups, and hopes to eventually extend its services to international students as a whole.
The 1800 number will be manned by trained volunteers fluent in Hindi, Punjabi and English, and will provide information, support and advice to international Indian students.
With the help of Victoria Police, 60 of the volunteers have been trained in police procedures and victim support services.
The helpline was launched as a response to the recent spate of attacks on Indian students, the latest of which left a man in hospital after being attacked with a screwdriver at a party in Hadfield, in Melbourne’s north.
President of the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria (FIAV), Vasan Srinavasan said the helpline would provide an invaluable service to students in need of assistance.
“Sometimes [there is] a stigma with Indian students that ringing police is not on. It’s not in their culture. We thought we would work around to support that area, so we decided to [create a] 1800 number,” Mr Srinivasan said.
Binthiya Gabriel, 23, a Masters student at RMIT, said the helpline would provide much-needed support to students from India.
“I guess the helpline will really be good for us, a good support for us. I’m really sure the helpline will help those students who have yet to come here to study,” Ms Gabriel said.
“When we come here to Melbourne for studies or for work, it’s a totally different environment, and when we come across these attacks…it really shakes us,” she said.
Superintendent Graham Kent from the Victoria Police said most robberies and attacks were opportunistic rather than racially motivated, and the Indian community was often overrepresented as victims.
“Sometimes, it is just a combination of timing and chance. A number of offenders are opportunists who take advantage of time, circumstances and opportunity,” he said.
But India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh, said at a press conference on May 29 in Melbourne that while Australia was not a racist society, some racist attitudes did exist.
“Some of these attacks have not been opportunistic, they have been motivated by other considerations, which is unfortunate because it does not reflect the true face of Australia,” Ms Singh said.
Besides aiding crime victims, the helpline will also assist with non-emergency issues, such as advising Indian students on finding accommodation, medical practitioners and even tax file numbers for work.
Indian students who require assistance can call 1800 342 800 (1800 FIAV 00). Operating hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, and 7pm to 11pm.