New Zealand: Some Sikh men studying in Invercargill have been repeatedly labelled terrorists and racially abused to the point where one student went against his religious beliefs to protect his safety.
Five students out of a group of 25 who arrived in Invercargill this month to study at the Southern Institute of Technology said they have experienced 16 incidents of racial abuse in the past 12 days.
The five said they have all been called terrorists and told to “leave our country” by pedestrians and motorists in the city.
Four of those targeted are Sikh and wear turbans, which they said made some “ignorant” people confuse them with Arabs or Muslims and target them for racial abuse.
One victim, Jasdeep Singh, said he was forced to go against his Sikh beliefs and get a haircut to avoid wearing a turban because he feared for his safety. “I haven’t told my parents yet; they will be shocked and quite angry.”
Fellow student Jasmail Singh said he had had bomb references made to him.
Perpetrators were both male and female, generally in their early 20s, he said.
The attacks had occurred mainly on Friday and Saturday nights and had put the students off walking around the city after dark, Mr Singh said.
One of the students not attacked, Suresh Kumar, said the group had been through a lot to get to New Zealand and were not yet ready to throw it all away.
“We came here with so many dreams and we want to realise those dreams here. We just want the people of Invercargill to accept us as normal human beings,” he said. “But if this is going to continue, then who knows?”
The group said they had all encountered a lot of friendly, helpful people in the city as well, especially at SIT.
SIT business manager Bharat Guha said the institute had contacted police and was investigating ways to help its Indian students.
It was also considering getting getting their recruitment agents in India to brief new students about potential racism, he said.
SIT chief executive Penny Simmonds said the issue had been blown out of proportion and Southland was not the only part of the country that experienced racial abuse.
Southland police area commander Barry Taylor said racial abuse did happen in Invercargill from time to time.
However, he had never encountered 16 cases of racial abuse in 12 days before.
“I would be very disappointed if the general community was participating in this sort of thing. I’m confident it’s a small minority,” Mr Taylor said.