By: Simon Collins
New Zealand’s $5 billion international education business is bracing for a hit from the Christchurch mosque attacks – but some Muslim students say the public outpouring of support for them could actually encourage students to come here.
The head of the Christchurch-based National Trade Academy, Craig Musson, said some non-Muslim South American students who had intended to enrol in his land-based trades courses had already decided not to come because of the attacks.
A Jordanian police officer posted on Canterbury University’s Facebook page: “As a muslim……. before this crime i want to come to newzealand……. Now i change my mind.”
But University of Canterbury Muslim Students’ Association president Bariz Shah said he was encouraged by “the love that has been going around”.
“I believe that it’s actually going to have a positive impact,” he said.
“No matter how much negative light you try to shed on this, I think the NZ community is amazing and I think we are going to get through this.”
Thousands of students and staff attended a lunchtime “Band Together” event at Canterbury University today to offer support for the Muslim community.
The Student Volunteer Army, founded in 2011 to help people affected by the Christchurch earthquakes, has teamed up with the university administration and the main campus students’ association to offer transport to the funerals of the 50 people killed in the attacks.
New Zealand hosted just over 125,000 international students in 2017, including almost 12,000 in Canterbury and including Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East and Fiji.
The mosque attacks have had a psychological impact on Muslim students throughout the country.
Sohail Din, an event co-ordinator for the Auckland University Muslim Students’ Association, said male students were not usually recognised as Muslim but female students who wore the hijab felt vulnerable.
“I know a lot of female students have decided not to come to university in the next few days out of fear,” he said.
Otago University Muslim Students’ Association vice-president Naser Tamiri said some Dunedin female students were afraid even to go to the supermarket in the hijab after the attacks.
However he said a volunteer group, Campus Watch, had offered to walk with female students “to the supermarket or anywhere”. And in Christchurch, Shah said he and other male students chose to wear their traditional prayer clothing today so that they would be identifiable as Muslim too.
“The Muslim brothers have offered to wear our traditional clothes almost every day to university to say to our sisters, ‘You are not alone, we are standing with you,'” he said.
University of Canterbury Iranian Society president Farahnaz Khosravi, a 47-year-old doctoral student who doesn’t wear the hijab herself, said she wore it on Saturday to support her 15-year-old daughter who has chosen to wear the head covering.
“Many ladies said they are ready to put some head scarf on their head to support women who wear hijab if they are scared,” she said.
Musson, who chairs the national sector group Independent Tertiary Education NZ, said the national education marketing agency Education NZ was co-ordinating efforts to tell potential overseas students that New Zealand was still safe and welcoming.
“We just have to put out a positive message that this is an isolated attack,” he said. “But it’s got to be done in a very understanding way.”
Source: NZ Herald