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Jan 08, 2010 at 03:30pm IST

Indian students snub Australia after attacks

New Delhi: There have been more than 500 racial attacks in the past year against Indian in Australia.

In the past one week two Indian students have been killed in Australia sending shockwaves across India and making those planning to go Down Under for students jittery.

Harkanwal Singh, a 25-year-old from Patiala, won't be returning to Melbourne's Swinburne University to complete his horticulture diploma. One year into his course, the recent attacks have scared him off.

"it is better to stay in your own country and make a humble living than to put your life in danger there," says Harkanwal Singh.

His sentiments are finding an echo.

There are loads of racial attacks there. So I won't go there," says another student planning to go overseas for studies.

"It exists but in small pockets. Most of my friends don't feel secure to go to Australia," adds another.

Visa applications have dropped 46 per cent in the past six months and 4,000 less students will be going to Australia this year.

The loss of faith is expected to cost Australia almost $70 million.

But Australia is also getting choosy. The acceptance rate for vocational course applications from India is down to four per cent.

"There is a two pronged approach where students are not applying and even the Australian government is not issuing visas as it used to earlier. Earlier the student population was 90,000. Now it's not even half that figure," says overseas education counsellor Kanika Marwaha.

As the diplomatic heat intensifies over the alleged racial attacks, it has also spilled over into the virtual world.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor says the Government has issued an advisory for Indian students in Australia.

"There are, sadly, incidences of violence and crime everywhere, including in our country. What we don't want is for a continuing pattern of attacks against our citizens. So we have taken steps of advising our citizens what to do and what not to do, but beyond that, let's leave it to the Australian government to deal with the problem," says Tharoor.

The Prime Minister also took a strong stand at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas saying securing Indians abroad was top priority says - be they students battling racism in Australia or workers facing recession in the Gulf.

"The security of our overseas workers and students is top priority for the Government. Many of them have been badly affected by the economic crisis. We are conscious of the need to structure an appropriate return and resettlement fund for them. We are working on a project to provide a social security net for returning workers," he said.