Two Indonesian students were allegedly verbally harassed and physically assaulted in the Australian capital of Canberra yesterday evening, with sources close to the matter saying the attack could be a possible hate crime.
The victims, both women, are students at the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Canberra. They were reportedly walking towards a bus stop near a shopping center in the city when two other women approached them and started yelling abuse at them.
Welhelmus Poek, president of PPIA ACT, the Canberra chapter of an Indonesian student association in Australia, said one of the victims had shared her account of the incident, which began with the alleged verbal harassment but quickly escalated into a physical assault.
"They said, among other things, 'Why are you dressed in black?', 'Why are you still alive?', 'It's not fair to us', and 'Where are your phones?'," Welhelmus said, relaying the content of a WhatsApp message from one of the victims, as quoted by ABC Indonesia.
"Me and my friend were quiet, then all of a sudden the attacker hit my friend in the ear so hard that she fell. Because of the attack, her pants were torn and her knees were bleeding."
It's not yet known if there were any witnesses to the alleged assault.
PPIA ACT says it has issued a warning to Indonesian students to remain vigilant of possible attacks in the wake of the incident. According to Welhelmus, the motive behind the attack is still unknown, but there's a high possibility that it could be classified as a racially motivated crime since the attacker pointed out the way the victims are dressed.
The Indonesian embassy in Canberra says it's aware of the incident and has already met with the two victims. They also said they would accompany the two students, who have reported the assault to the police, to take legal action.
According to Australian government data, the number of Indonesian students enrolled in Australian higher education institutions was around 20,000 in 2017 and that figure is expected to continue to grow. A free trade deal between the two countries is expected to improve higher education cooperation between the neighboring nations, but the deal has been in limbo since Australia expressed interest in moving its Israel embassy to Jerusalem last year.
Australia, home to many international students, faced criticism in 2009 following a series of violent assaults on Indian students, most of which were racially motivated.