Melbourne: About 54 overseas students, nearly half of them Indians, died of various causes in Australia last year, but coroners were trying to suppress the details of the deaths, a leading daily in Melbourne reported on Wednesday.
The report in The Age, which comes amid a series of racial attacks targeting Indian students in Australia, claimed the toll is higher than the federal government has admitted.
State and territory coroners, under the National Coroners Information System (NCIS), have refused an application by the daily for data on deaths of overseas students in the year to November 2008, the paper said.
A spokeswoman for Victorian Coroner Jennifer Coate said the information would not be made public because it was not exhaustive. “The nationality and occupation of someone who has died is not required to be automatically recorded,” she said.
The refusal came after the NCIS previously indicated that the information would be made available, the report said.
In February, under questioning in Parliament, the government said 51 overseas students died in that year, with 34 dying of “unknown” causes. Fourteen cases were cited as accidents and three as death from illness.
But an investigation by The Age has established the death toll is higher than 51 — around 54 — with most coming from India, Korea and China. Nearly half were Indians, the report said adding, Indians were holding one-fifth of the total student visas at that time.
The government numbers showed no suicides, but the real figure is at least three, the daily claimed.
It also carried a story datelined Rampura Phul in Punjab, detailing the trauma of the family of Mangat Garg, whose son Razat died after being hit by a train on the western fringes of Melbourne on the Valentine’s Day.
Australian Police suggested that the hospitality management student had committed suicide but the family is alleging murder and is not satisfied with the investigation, the report said. The valuables and cash he was carrying at the time of the incident was not found on his body, Garg said.
The daily quoted a leading expert on international education, Monash University business professor Chris Nyland, as saying that there was a need for a federal advisory body on student safety. Nyland also called for mandatory statistical reporting of international student deaths.
Currently, if an overseas student dies in Australia, the education provider is not required to give a cause of death when it reports the matter to the department of education, employment and workplace relations.
A spokeswoman for education minister Julia Gillard said the law would be reviewed this year and next.
Opposition Immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said she sought the data in February because foreign-student organisations suspected under-reporting of deaths. “To have 34 cited as unknown is an extraordinary statistic.”