MANY international students have been the victims of opportunistic crime because of their occupations and limited housing options, says Victoria’s top cop.
Chief Commissioner Simon Overland addressed the concerns of more than 120 international students at a safety forum held in Melbourne this morning.
He spoke plainly about the issues facing international students, which have, in the last 12 months, threatened Victoria’s reputation as a multicultural city.
“There are very real issues here in Victoria at the moment, which is violence on our streets, violence against international students,” Mr Overland said.
“We had intelligence that said to us some two years ago that robberies were increasing, and international students, and Indian students in particular, were over-represented as victims of robbery.
“Undoubtedly, some of what we’re seeing is racism. There is no denying that, I’ve never denied it, I have never walked away from it,” he said.
But labels and stereotypes clouded the difference between perception and fact, Mr Overland said.
“The reality is that in many cases, many of these young people have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many robberies are opportunistic. They’re targeted at taxi drivers, or late night shop attendants, jobs in which a very significant number of Indian students work.”
He acknowledged the “practical realities” many international students faced.
“Unfortunately for international students, they live in some of the poorest and more socio-economically deprived areas of the state, and there are increased risks in those areas.
“We know that the robberies by and large happen on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights after about 10pm. We know students often have no choice because they are working and studying, and they have to walk home, and they are vulnerable.”
But international students were not over-represented in any other crime category, including assaults, he said.
Australia India Society of Victoria vice president Manjula O’Connor said the fear of being attacked was spreading across the Indian community.
Dr O’Connor, who is a psychiatrist, said she had worked with many international students.
“People, in fact, are now fearful of going out. The Indian people are fearful of going out,” she said.
Australian Federation of International Students president Wesa Chau said students did know the risks of travelling late at night, and some students living in the western suburbs chose to stay home after 6pm.
“Unfortunately, this is not an option for other students. They have to go to work, they have to do late night shifts, and so the challenge for us is how do we protect these students… because of the high living expenses in Victoria, because they do not have transport concessions,” Ms Chau said.
Mr Overland said police had successfully reduced crime on Melbourne’s train lines and at railway stations.
“Now the pattern we’re seeing is that robberies are happening within a three-kilometre radius of certain railway stations where there is a concentration of Indian students and other international students living,” he said.
He said police was tackling safety issues by working with international students, education providers and government agencies, and through the new community liaison officer program to work with new and emerging communities.
He said an Operations Response Unit would be established next month to improve safety across Melbourne’s public transport network.
But he called for governments and industry stakeholders to work together.
“I don’t think there has been enough thought around how and in what circumstances students come to this country, how they’re supported when they’re here, what rights they have when they’re here and how we make sure that their experience of this country is as positive as we can make it,” Mr Overland said.
“It’s where the Commonwealth Government, the State Government and others need to really step in and do their bit just as much as I think the private colleges do need to be held more to account about the way they care for students.”