Sydney, June 12 : Indian students were given a pledge Friday that the Australian government would do all in its power to protect them from the racist attacks that threaten both the billion-dollar education industry and bilateral ties.
"We are sending a message to the Australian community that there is absolutely zero tolerance for any form of discrimination against international students," Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said after a crisis meeting of the states' education ministers.
"There is no tolerance for violence, no tolerance at all for any of the things we've seen happen, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, in recent days," she said.
The pledge follows rallies in Sydney and Melbourne with Indian students demanding police protection after a string of muggings and assaults that authorities now admit are sometimes racially motivated.
The rallies have prompted police to boost patrols at railway stations where many of the attacks have taken place. They were spurred into action by the Indian students themselves, who have organised vigilante groups to escort community members from the train stations to their homes.
Gillard, who is also the federal education minister, announced a telephone hotline had been set up so that students could anonymously raise concerns.
The ministers meeting in Hobart also agreed to set up an international student taskforce that would coordinate the work of different agencies in ensuring the safety and happiness of foreign students.
"We are going to do everything we can to send a message to international students that they are welcome here," Gillard said.
Even as the ministers were meeting, reports came in that a 22-year-old Indian student had his nose broken in an Adelaide shopping arcade. Police have arrested a 17-year-old for an attack that was preceded by disparaging remarks about the student's turban.