New Delhi, May 25: In a fire-fighting exercise after killing of a Congolese youth, India today assured African countries of safety of their nationals and tried to persuade their envoys to attend an ICCR-hosted Africa Day event here tomorrow. Also Read - International Flights: Kathmandu-New Delhi Flight Services Likely to Resume From Next Week
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her junior minister V K Singh went into damage-control mode after the African Heads of Missions (HoMs) sought deferment of the event, expressing outrage over the recent killing and demanded steps against “racism and Afro-phobia”. Also Read - Unwarranted And Ill-informed: MEA Reacts to Justin Trudeau’s Remarks on Farmers Protest in India
While Swaraj assured that India was committed towards the safety and security of African nationals, Singh met the representatives of African heads of missions to assuage their concerns while strongly condemning the killing of the youth here last week. Also Read - COVID-19: India's Daily Cases Drops To 38,772, Over 45,000 Recoveries Reported In Last 24 Hours
According to Indian officials, Singh “impressed on the African HoMs the need to continue the tradition (Africa Day celebrations) but also said that India would be guided by them in the matter” after which the African side said they will revert on the issue after deliberating on it internally.
They said the African side seemed to be satisfied with Indian efforts to bring to book the culprits of recent attack and were likely to attend the celeberations tomorrow.(ALSO READ:Congolese’s murder: V K Singh deputed to allay African envoys’ concerns).
When asked if they will attend the celebrations tomorrow, Dean of African Group Head of Missions and Ambassador of Eritrea Alem Tsehage Woldemariam said, “Let’s see. There is still a day left,” in an apparent indication that they may participate in the event.
Earlier, the envoys of the 42 African nations, taking strong exception to killing of Congolese national Masonda Ketada Oliver last week, said they will not attend the “Africa Day” celebrations as the African Community in India, including students, are in a “state of mourning in memory of the slain African students in the last few years, including Oliver.”
“The Indian government is strongly enjoined to take urgent steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India,” he said in a statement.
However, the MEA in a separate statement said all criminal acts should not be seen as racially-motivated.
Oliver was beaten to death last week in Vasant Kunj area of South Delhi following a brawl over hiring of an autorickshaw.
Responding to the concerns of the African envoys, Swaraj said government has directed the authorities to take stringent action against the culprits involved in killing of the Congolese national.
“When I came to know about the unfortunate killing of a Congo national in Delhi, we directed stringent action against the culprits. I would like to assure African students in India that this an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons,” she tweeted.
Swaraj said she has also asked Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung to take necessary steps and ensure that the case of killing of Oliver is tried by a fast track court.
“We will request State Governments to depute Commissioner of Police in all such meetings,” said the MEA.
Official sources said both Lt Governor and the Delhi Police Chief have been spoken to and they are pursuing the case of killing of the Congolese youth.
They said minister Singh will also do an outreach event with African students along with concerned Embassies to reassure them of safety.
Meanwhile, to underscore India’s continued support, Secretary (Economic Relations) Amar Sinha attended an event to celebrate the Africa Day by the missions here. Sinha had met a group of African heads of missions yesterday, including the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps and assured them that stringent punishment will be given to those found guilty.
“Secretary (ER) also pointed out that all criminal acts should not be seen as racially-motivated. Thousands of African students continue to pursue their education in India without any issues.
“Government of India deeply values its relations with foreign students, particularly those from Africa with which India has had a historically close relationship. We will ensure that African students continue to find a welcome home in India and such unfortunate incidents do not recur,” the MEA said.
The MEA said two suspects have already been arrested while one is on the run and that stringent punishment will be given to those involved in the attack on Oliver.
Woldermariam said the envoys have expressed deep concerns that several attacks and harassment of African students in India “have gone unresolved without diligent prosecution and conviction of perpetrators.”
“They strongly condemn the brutal killing of the African and calls on the Indian government to take concrete steps to guarantee the safety and security of Africans in India,” he said.