Agnes Anya, Jakarta – Two universities in Canberra said in a joint statement on Monday that they were "shocked and appalled" at the alleged harassment of two hijab-wearing Indonesian students in the Australian capital.
The University of Canberra and the Australian National University – where the two students are pursuing master's degrees – expressed concern about the reported assault, saying that they were providing support for the victims.
"The University of Canberra and The Australian National University are deeply concerned and saddened by reports two of their students were victims of an assault. Our first priority is the wellbeing of our students, and we are providing direct care and support to those affected," the two universities said in a joint press statement received by The Jakarta Post on Monday.
"We are all shocked and appalled that this has happened in Canberra, a city where incidents are very rare," they said.
The statement further said that the universities had been working closely with each other, as well as with local stakeholders – including the police, city administration, student representative groups and community organizations – to make the campuses and Canberra a safe environment for living and studying.
Local police are currently investigating the alleged assault against the two Indonesian Muslim students near Canberra city center.
The female students, identified only as AY and MT, were strolling around the city center on a Thursday afternoon when two strangers started yelling at them.
The strangers – an Australian woman and her male friend – reportedly pointed fingers at them while slurring loud comments about the students' hijabs.
"Why do you wear all black? Why are you even still alive? It isn't fair to us," recounted Welhelmus Poek, chairman of the Indonesian Students Association in Australia (PPIA) Canberra branch, in describing what had been reported to him by one of the students last week.
The female harasser then reportedly attacked AY, causing her to stumble and suffer a minor injury to her knee.
While the authorities have yet to determine the motive behind the harassment, there is a suspicion that it may be race related.
In response to the issue, the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra has sent a diplomatic notice to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, urging it to investigate the case properly.
On Monday, the PPIA met with the dean of the University of Canberra, where AY is a student, to call on the university to support the victim.
Welhelmus said that both the dean and the university had promised their "full support" for the alleged victim in terms of academic and nonacademic issues.
"For instance, they are ready to provide legal advice; they even showed their readiness to meet any request for their presence at a trial [should one occur]," he said.
"The university will also provide an individual to accompany the victim if the victim continues to feel uncomfortable in public spaces. For me, such support is good," Welhelmus said.
Representatives of the student group previously met with officials from the Australian National University, MT's university, which had expressed regret over the incident.
A 25-year-old Indonesian student at Australian National University, Vita Rosiana Dewi, was surprised by the incident, saying that she had never experienced any discrimination during her stay in Canberra as a result of her hijab.
"Canberra is a safe and convenient place to live and study. However, it is indeed a very quiet place," Vira told the Post. "There are quite a lot of drunk and uneducated people [walking around] at night. That is what makes me scared."