Early one Wednesday morning last month, Malaysian student Kai Ping Tan, “KP” to his friends, decided his hunger couldn’t wait. He left his friends at an internet cafe on A’Beckett St and walked the 400 metres to a 24 hour restaurant on Lonsdale St. Food in hand, he strolled alone back towards his bed for the night. His route took him to the front of the State Library, the street lights shining above.
“Most people had told me it was very safe. I thought it would be safe.”
It was not.
All KP saw as he approached the library was a couple in the distance heading north as he was, and two males sitting in front of the Library lawn.
As he reached the two males, the taller man stood and grabbed him from behind. Punches were thrown. KP went to ground and the taller attacker pinned him, overpowering the much shorter student, due to return to Malaysia just days later.
The attackers knew what they wanted. While the smaller accomplice kicked KP’s hand, which he held near his jeans, the other man made his demand to his victim.
“He said that if I didn’t give him my wallet he would kill me,” KP says.
The pain in his left eye becoming unbearable, KP relented. The attackers took their spoil and, after some final punches, fled. Their undeserved reward was $500 and some Malaysian ID and bank cards. It was the second time KP had been robbed in Australia.
KP is left with injuries above and around his eyes, to his right cheek, his lips, chest and abdomen, and a small fracture in his leg.
For the sophisticated, multicultural and liveable city of Melbourne, these events are more common than they should be. With assaults on the rise, international students cannot be complacent with their security, police and student representatives say.
Victoria Police figures reveal that crimes against people in the City of Melbourne have increased 4.7 per cent in the last 12 months. Assaults are up by 2.5 per cent.
Divisional Superintendent for Melbourne region Rod Wilson expresses no alarm at the assault figures.
“[It’s] not a great figure, but it’s not significantly up,” Supt. Wilson says.
While the figures are not broken down to identify the victims, Supt. Wilson’s anecdotal evidence is that international students are not suffering more than others.
“I don’t see international students featuring as highly as they were,” he said.
The statement reminds Melburnians of the uproar following attacks on international students more than 18 months ago. The attacks, predominantly on Indian students, led the Indian High Commissioner to demand better protection for those Indians living, working and studying in Melbourne.
Supt. Wilson says Victoria Police have taken a number of measures to ensure the safety of all in the city, with 120 police officers now on foot patrol in the CBD on Friday and Saturday nights.
Police are also working with licensees to encourage a greater professionalism within the city’s bars and clubs, due to alcohol “fuelling the assaults”, the Superintendent says.
Councillor Jennifer Kanis says the City of Melbourne is doing its part to ensure streets are as safe as possible, with the number of CCTV cameras having doubled in recent years.
“Last year we also introduced the Youth Street Teams [an outreach of the Salvation Army] to assist people in getting home safely on a Friday and Saturday night and we hold a bi-annual Lord Mayor’s student welcome to ensure the safety and wellbeing of international students ,” Councillor Kanis says.
For Council of International Students (CISA) president Arfa Noor, a lack of accurate and appropriate information means foreign students are often overconfident about Melbourne’s safety record.
“They tend to overestimate how safe it is, and take risks they shouldn’t take,” the Pakistani business student at Melbourne Institute of Technology says.
Ms Noor says she was warned at her orientation not to walk home alone at night, but believes the safety information might “sink in” better if students are given it before they arrive in Australia.
CISA is advocating for increased student accommodation close to universities, and for international students to be allowed to purchase concession cards for public transport.
Many international students are leaving themselves open to attacks in efforts to save money on public transport, walking the last part of their trip home rather than buying Zone 2 tickets, Ms Noor says.
Ms Noor and Supt. Wilson agree that opportunism, rather than race, is at the heart of most assaults, with attackers looking for easy targets and a victim on their own.
KP Tan agrees.
“They picked me because I was alone,” he says.
The attack hasn’t stopped KP, who had just completed his business degree in Malaysia prior to his visit, from saying he would one day consider living in Australia.
“If I get a place to stay and a job I might live there, or I might retire there,” KP says from Singapore.
He says he was touched by the interest in his attack, and complimented the police for their efficient response.
A Victoria Police spokesperson has confirmed that after reviewing CCTV footage police are aware of possible persons of interest, however these people have not yet been identified. The investigation is continuing.
The safety of Melbourne remains important for KP, with his girlfriend now studying at Victoria University’s Flinders St campus.
“I’m glad she’s got the opportunity to study [there].
“[But] I couldn’t say I was 100 per cent comfortable with her being in Melbourne,” KP says.
Victoria Police have 24 hour police stations in the CBD at 637 Flinders St and 226 Flinders Lane, and at 36 Wreckyn St in North Melbourne.