This is really great for business and for the economy,” an official from the Ministry of Tourism had told me at the time. New restaurants, gated apartments, pharmacies and thriving entertainment spots were just some of the facilities and amenities that had sprung up since Ross arrived. I couldn’t help but wonder why the same did not appear to be happening back at home in Vieux Fort which has had a long history of Medical schools attracting foreign students. Yet the town has remained largely under-developed and offers little to the students by way of recreational activities. Save for the odd concert or event in Vieux Fort and the popular video lottery gambling spots, the area is a virtual ghost town on weekends by 7pm. (More on that in Saturday’s STAR.)
Recently two medical schools set up shop in the more thriving north of the island, Gros Islet. First was the American International Medical University (AIM-U). This is an offshore medical school operating a school of medicine and a school of nursing. It partners with universities and hospitals in the United States including Washington Adventist University. The school is located in Beausejour.
More recently there has been the introduction of the Atlantic University School Of Medicine campus is located at Bonne Terre. And while the schools boast on their websites about being ideally located in the thriving and lively north of the island in contrast to the comatose south. But there is a bigger problem: Crime! In the past few weeks several medical students, most of them from India, have been complaining of being robbed. Worse, they feel that local police have not been taking them seriously.
The STAR spoke with Gurruabeva (Gurru) Abarajeethan about what he and many of his friends have been encountering in recent times. “Right now it would seem like the thieves in the Gros Islet area are targeting these students. They are also assaulting us and breaking into our apartments and taking our mobiles, computers, money ,and right now we do not feel safe at all,” Gurru says.
“In my compound there were two robberies recently. We went to the police but the police had this attitude like they didn’t care or that we were the ones bringing this upon ourselves. One of them was even mocking my friend and making fun at the way he speaks,” he went on.
The STAR was also informed that just last week, one student was beaten up by a robber who stole his mobile phone. Another had their apartment broken into Tuesday morning and was robbed of a television and a sum of money.
“We medical students have come all the way from India to get an education here. We also have an interest in helping out here in the medical field when we graduate but with so many things happening to us here it is not a good feeling,” Gurru says.
The students say that even some of their Landlords to whom they have complained, seemed indifferent to their plight. “After my apartment was broken into and thieves stole my laptop, ipad and camera, I made a report and then spoke to the landlord about improving security at the apartment,” Seeta one of the students told us. “However she just told me I saw the condition of the apartment when I rented it and that there was nothing she could do right now,” she added.
One past student of the school who is a Saint Lucian says she is all too familiar with what has been going on with the students. Requesting anonymity she told us something must be done. “Whether it is improved patrols by the police, because some of these incidents are happening in broad daylight or the landlords addressing some of their concerns, these students need to feel safe and more welcome in Saint Lucia being so far away from home,” our source says.
The STAR contacted the Gros Islet police station for comment. Corporal Peterkin confirmed with us that in recent weeks he had heard of a few incidents involving the students. “What would happen is that the students would come in, make a report and the officer at the desk would take a statement and pass it on to an investigating officer, “Peterkin says. He went on to say that very often if the students do not hear anything they feel that they have been forgotten.
“But most times the investigation is ongoing and we cannot make an arrest or have a case without any evidence,” he says. Asked about the attitude of the police towards the students Peterkin had this to say: “If anyone is acting negatively towards these students or making fun of them then this is a disgrace and should not be happening. But I want to assure you that as a police force we take each matter very seriously,” he says. We also enquired whether there was any spike in crime in Gros Islet to be alarmed at ,to which Peterkin said no.
“However we are still challenged when it comes to keeping a grip on security during the Gros Islet Friday night where some of these incidents like the robberies have occurred,” he stated.
Peterkin however advised students to always be vigilant when at home, walking to and from school or they are going out.
“I would also advise them to walk in groups, ensure that they have numbers of reliable taxi drivers if they need one and always have the vehicle number that picks them up,” he says. Finally he adds that if students feel that they are not being adequately served by the police then they could put in a complaint.