The Question of Racism: How to Understand the Violent Attacks on Indian Students in Australia?

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Michiel Baas


For the past ten years I have been involved in research on the topic of Indian student-migrants in Australia. What started in India in 2004 with the ostensibly simple questions why there was such a surge in Indian students’ enrolments in Australia, turned into a study which had the question of migration at the heart of its investigation. Realising that the majority of Indian students based their decision for Australia on the relatively easy pathway the country offered towards permanent residency my research focused on understanding how such trajectories from students to migrants took shape. However, as I argued in Imagined Mobility (Anthem Press, 2010), while the propensity to apply for PR may be high, permanently residing in Australia was often not the objective. Instead many Indian students saw a PR as facilitating the start of transnational existence. In this paper I will draw upon a vast collection of newspaper articles as well as ethnographic material collected over this period in order to produce a personalised account of how I, as an academic researcher, observed the discourse about Indian students in Australia ‘migrate’ from them being welcome international students and would-be migrants to unwelcome profiteers whose place in Australian cities was highly contested. Questions I will focus on are: how did the violent attacks and subsequent debate about their racist nature impact the lives and trajectories of Indian student-migrants as starting transnationals; how did they themselves reflect on these attacks especially in relation to them now being ‘permanent residents’; and finally, what role do ‘Indian students’ continue to play in Australia’s skilled migration debate?

Article Details

Articles (refereed)
Author Biography

Michiel Baas, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Michiel Baas is a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore (2010). Since completing his doctoral thesis at the University of Amsterdam on Indian student-migrant flows to Australia he has continued research and writing on this subject. His latest book is Imagined Mobility. Migration and Transnationalism among Indian Students in Australia (London: Anthem Press, 2010).



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—— Rapson, V. & T.F. Smith, T.F. (2006) Australia’s net gains from International skilled movements in 2004–05 and earlier years (Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University: Melbourne).
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—— (2010) ‘How valuable is “two-step migration”? Labour market outcomes for international student migrants to Australia’, Asia-Pacific Migration Journal vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 5–36.
16-03-06 ‘Students threaten hunger strike after poor exam results’
28-03-07 ‘Study highlights loophole in Aust skilled migration program’
06-02-08 ‘Cash-strapped foreign students “struggling to survive”’
09-06-09 ‘Would-be vigilantes patrolling Melbourne train stations’
09-06-09 ‘Retaliation fears grow as students watch their backs’
21-05-09 ‘International students target of racist attacks in Newcastle’
27-07-09 ‘Police raid migration agent’s offices’
28-07-09 ‘Call for greater regulation for migration agents’
The Age
17-03-06 ‘More student protests planned’
13-08-06 ‘Why these drivers are upset’
29-01-07 ‘English skills row over foreign students’
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08-06-09 ‘Indians an easy target for cowards lurking in shadows’
09-06-09 Anger at assaults: Indians rally in Sydney
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19-01-09 ‘Degrees still lure low-skill migrants’
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01-06-09 ‘Police “punched” Indian protesters’
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17-05-10 ‘Hairdressers out as migrant skills list gets a trim’
The Herald Sun
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Hindustan Times
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Indian Voice
Oct. 2005 ‘It's not easy being a taxi driver’
Nov. 2005 ‘It's not fun being a taxi driver. Racist remarks/abuses’
Dec. 2005 ‘Late Night Surcharge: Is it 20% or …?’
22-02-06 ‘Illegal workers driving cabs’
Radio Australia
02-07-09 ‘Australian politicians discuss safety of foreign students’
03-07-09 ‘Australia works on policy to assist foreign students’
Sydney Morning Herald
30-03-06 ‘Universities being used as immigration factories’
29-01-07 ‘Unis open to students who fail English’
22-03-07 ‘All unis playing migrant game’
26-03-07 ‘Skilled migration a rort: report’
23-08-07 ‘Plagiarism row: student decries uni standards’
11-09-08 ‘Foreign students exploited’
17-12-08 ‘Overseas students exploited as cash cows’
22-04-09 ‘Overseas students abused by bosses, landlords: union’
02-06-09 ‘Indian students want concession cards’
11-06-09 ‘Indians should learn to treat their lower castes better’ Sydney Morning Herald 09-06-09 ‘Brutal Truth about Attacks’
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Times of India
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24-06-09 ‘85% Australians feel racism exist in Australia’