Columbus Igboanusi, a Nigerian serving as legal counselor to the Association of African Students in Slovakia, says 17 African students, about half of those currently studying here, have suffered physical attacks since the beginning of the year. "There is a situation of fear, especially when our students have to travel on public transportation" he says. "Students have been badly injured by skinheads; some have had teeth knocked out."
Figures from the Education Ministry confirm a sharp drop in recent years in the number of students from Third World countries enrolled in Slovak institiutions. The number of students from Africa dropped from 169 in 1995 to 90 last year. Those from Arab countries dropped from 231 to 157.
Igboanusi said the reason for the decline is the insecurity that dark skinned foreigners feel here. "It is cheaper to study here" he said. "But many have left before finishing because of fear."
Some blame the authorities for not taking the problem seriously. "Many cases go unreported" said Gregory Fabian, an American lawyer working in Slovakia for the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. "There is a fear of retribution and there is no trust that police will investigate the cases properly."
School officials and educators says they are concerned about the problem, but insist there is little they can do since most attacks take place on city streets or buses. Yet some have shown more interest in combatting violence than others.
When an African student was attacked outside the campus of the University of Economics in Bratislava last year, rector Juraj Stern demanded that police increase patrols in the area. There have been no problems since.
Stern also met with representitives of the general study body, who promised to try to accompany foreign students in their movements outside university buildings, to dissuade potential attackers. "Better police work is needed," said Stern. At the same time, he added, "normal citizens should get involved when an attack takes place. Ordinarily, everyone just turns away."
18. Oct 1999 at 0:00 | Burton Bollag