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International students hurt by racism, then COVID-19 made it all worse

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A Queensland parliamentary inquiry has heard international students believe they are more likely to be racially vilified and less likely to complain.

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At a committee hearing in Brisbane on Thursday, the national president of the Council of International Students Australia, Belle Lim, welcomed the Queensland government’s bid to improve racial vilification laws and prevent hate crimes.

Based on a council survey conducted over social media, Lim said a majority of international students had experienced verbal abuse, social exclusion and bullying, and to a lesser extent physical assault, sometimes recorded, across a wide range of settings.

“Due to the distinct cultural backgrounds, and the temporary nature of our visas, we observe that international students can become targets of racial vilification or as a conduit for proxy racism for those who perceive racism and racist behaviour as more acceptable or safe if done towards foreigners such as international students,” Lim said.

“When attacks do happen, we observe that students are more reluctant or hesitant to report due to fear of any impacts on our visas and also due to the perception that Australian laws protect Australians more than people on temporary visas.”

Lim said some racist behaviour intensified during the pandemic, particularly towards people from Asian countries. She said if the government introduced reforms it would help “boost community confidence” as students, whose plans have also been disrupted by travel restrictions, frequently felt helpless.

“Our experiences are often not validated in public discourse, and sometimes even met with the response ‘go back to your countries’,” Lim said.

While data on the extent of the problem is patchy, Queensland police have previously pointed to a 30 per cent increase in reports in 2020, partly linked to the debate over the origins of COVID-19.

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