'We care so deeply': Ambassador Garcetti assures safety for Indian students in US amid reports of deaths

While the US remains a preferred destination for higher studies among Indian students, the string of such cases has raised concern among the Indo-American community as well as the Indian population.
US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti during an interview with PTI at the American Center, in New Delhi, Friday, April 26, 2024.
US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti during an interview with PTI at the American Center, in New Delhi, Friday, April 26, 2024.Photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: The United States is a safe country and it "cares deeply" for the well-being of Indian students, its Ambassador Eric Garcetti said here on Friday and assured their parents that "their children are our children" when they are in the US.

His comments during an interview with PTI at the American Center come in the backdrop of reports of nearly half a dozen deaths of Indian and Indian-origin students in the US since January.

While the US remains a preferred destination for higher studies among Indian students, the string of such cases has raised concern among the Indo-American community as well as the Indian population.

"We care so deeply for the well-being of Indian students in the US. We want parents to know that their children are our children when they are in United States. And, there is a wealth of resources that can help students prepare...in the US, whether it is mental health... and resources for that being far away for home, parents and families," he told PTI.

While lamenting these tragic deaths in the past few months, the American ambassador to India asserted that "US is a safe country".

Garcetti underlined that students studying abroad should familiarise themselves, have a network, trusted friends, and should know what to do if there is a dangerous situation, or if there is a mental health issue.

He said in a new country it could just be an issue of common sense public safety, and students might not know which neighbourhood to go to and not to go to and at what time of night, as also what resources are there.

US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti during an interview with PTI at the American Center, in New Delhi, Friday, April 26, 2024.
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The US envoy underlined that students going to study in the US should know that there are campus securities, local law enforcements, and that "all these things sometimes students just don't know, since it is a new country".

In the interview, Garcetti, a former mayor of Los Angeles, shared his own experience of personal safety when he was a student.

"When I was a student, I went to NYC in the 1980s, which was a pretty dangerous city then. But I sat down and listened to campus security, 'don't walk down here at night, don't go there. Here is a way to stay safe' and this is before cell-phones. Now, in 2024, we have so many more resources, than when I was a student," he said.

The envoy said American universities are "extraordinary places" to come to and offer overwhelming experience to students, including Indian students, and he wanted all students to have that rich experience.

"The United States is a safe country. And, there are a lot of resources to help students feel protected. But if they don't reach out, we might not know about the incidents, before it is too late," said Garcetti, who had arrived in India in early April last year after receiving the confirmation to the post from the US Senate in March 2023.

A pre-departure orientation programme was held at the American Center here for a group of Indian students who have been chosen for various academic programmes starting this fall at different universities, such as Purdue University, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and University of Los Angeles. Many students also joined the event online.

Garcetti briefly interacted with the students and asked them to make the best use of their time in the US and make good use of resources.

"America is a very safe country... And, we want to make sure you are completely safe," he told students.

In April, a 25-year-old Indian student who had been missing since last month was found dead in the US city of Cleveland. Uma Satya Sai Gadde died in Ohio this month and police are investigating the case.

Sameer Kamath, a 23-year-old Indian-American student at Purdue University, was found dead in a nature preserve in Indiana on February 5.

In the wake of such cases, Garcetti said the US wants to provide students and their parents with resources that can help students to stay safe such as websites, links to organisations, and ways to familiarise themselves. He urged students to adhere to campus safety briefings.

American universities attract a large number of Indian students, and last year, the US consular team in India issued over 1,40,000 student visas -- more than in any other country in the world setting a record for the third year in a row.

"With a record number, we are going to see these tragic incidents statistically, whether it is in US, or whether it is in India, things happen to students. And, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said there is no evidence of any connection, there is no evidence of any targeting of Indian students. So, this is really about common sense and arming yourselves with knowledge of the resources and the best practices, so that you can have the best experience possible," Garcetti said in the interview.

"We see so many Indian students whose lives have been enriched, had such wonderful experiences. We want that to be the experience of 100 percent of Indian students and that is our goal," he said.

Asked if steps have been taken by US authorities to ensure such incidents do not recur, Garcetti said, "Many things... We care about the well-being of all students in US, including American students."

On his India experience so far as a US envoy, Garcetti said he has visited many states and places in the country.

"India once again has changed me and changed my life. India has always been in my soul, so deeply in my soul now that I can't imagine a life without India. I know my time here will be one chapter, but it's been the greatest chapter," he said.

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