When Agade Busaka came to Australia to study in 1998, he was excited.
He planned to graduate from the University of Newcastle and start his career before heading back to his homeland in Kenya.
Now the 25-year-old cannot wait to leave, and alert his friends to the racism he has experienced.
He and his colleagues are so concerned, some have called for warnings about racism to be placed in literature advertising courses.
Posters have appeared suggesting people who had sex with “blacks” would get AIDS.
It is not known who has been responsible for distributing the material, but the Patriotic Youth League, which has an office in Newcastle, has its name at the bottom of stickers reading “Stop the marking up of foreign students”.
Stuart McBeth, the president of the league, said it had nothing to do with any such campaign.
At least two African students have been hospitalised, and students have been verbally abused on campus. Asian students were trapped inside a house for two hours while rocks were thrown at the building.
An African student, who did not want to be named, said he was beaten while walking through Newcastle.
The Kenyan-born man was with a friend’s Norwegian girlfriend when a group of people came up and started asking why she was “going out with a black person”.
“I went to talk to them, trying to stop the whole thing and one of them bashed me and punched me,” he said.
“I was driven away in an ambulance. I couldn’t see for a week.”
He said an African friend had been attacked on a train—a beating that resulted in a broken jaw.
Mr Busaka was walking on campus with his girlfriend when a man shouted at him that Africans were bringing AIDS to Australia and that they should go back to Africa.
Mr Busaka said he had felt intimidated. “I was standing just outside the library with my girlfriend at the time,” he said. “She was quite shaken.”
The atmosphere had changed since he had arrived in Australia, Mr Busaka said. “When I came, there were about 10 Africans here. Now, there’s almost 200 here. We used to be something rare, but that uniqueness is lost.”
Novocastrians may be starting to feel “a bit swamped”, he said.
Sub-Saharan African students made up 3.3 per cent of international students enrolled in Australian universities in 2003, while students from North Africa and the Middle East came in at 1.6 per cent, Department of Education, Science and Training figures state.
Mr Busaka said the Government had created a culture of fear with its treatment of the Tampa crisis and asylum seekers, and the university had not done enough to stamp out racism.
Veronica Meneses, education and welfare officer for the student association’s International Students’ Department, said the situation had escalated in the past month, but had been building for two years.
Much of the verbal abuse went unreported, Ms Meneses said. “Students say it is part of the landscape,” she said.
The university’s vice-chancellor Roger Holmes said he and the staff had been supportive of international students, who make up 10 per cent of the student population, but incidences of racism should be brought to the university’s attention.
All racist material posted on campus had been taken down by security and Professor Holmes said anyone caught putting up such material would be reported to the police.
“Racial vilification is something that’s abhorrent to me and abhorrent to our staff,” he said.
The director of the Migrant Resource Centre for Newcastle and the Hunter, Violetta Walsh, said she did not believe Newcastle was less racially tolerant in proportion to other Australian centres.
Ms Walsh attributed the racism to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Tampa crisis and the Bali bombings, all of which she said could be perceived as giving fuel to those interested in “blame games”.
Bad publicity gained from the attacks could affect the numbers of prospective students, said Fungai Mupunga, officer with the university’s International Students’ Department.
“It definitely is giving Australia a bad name,” he said.