Over the past few weeks, there has been a barrage of media commentary about the involvement of young people from African backgrounds, especially South Sudanese, in crime.
A recent A Current Affair piece “Foreign Gang Crime” (21 November) introduced their story acknowledging the fact that “the vast majority of offenders are Australian born”. Despite this, the focus of the accusations and community concern immediately turned to young people of African descent, because of their visibility.
Rather than condemning this small group of vulnerable young people, we need to address the reasons behind youth offending. International research and our own programs tell us that locking them up does not affect change.
It must also be stressed that not all Sudanese young people are struggling. In fact, many are doing well at school, playing in local sports clubs, and connecting and engaging with the wider Australian community.
CMY has strong links with the South Sudanese community leaders and has seen first hand the tireless work they do on behalf of their young people. They are deeply disappointed in the constant negative portrayal of South Sudanese young people in the media, and from a few vocal and outspoken politicians.
Like many refugee communities that have come to Australia before them, the South Sudanese community has confronted challenges in the settlement process. Youth unemployment among young people from this community is high, and of key concern is a sense of disengagement from society, both of which can be drivers to anti-social behaviour.
‘Access to jobs with career prospects, training and education, means youth will have something to look forward to and be proud of,’ Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said at the recent Youth Crime Summit in Melbourne. We endorse and commend the Commissioner’s call to action from the summit – to give young people a go, which means to give them a job.
We need commitment and leadership from the Australian community to help make these young people feel like they belong. And this can only be done effectively, when we work with the local communities and bring their elders along. In the meantime, let’s not be distracted by dangerously misleading statistics and scare tactics.
Carmel Guerra OAM
Chief Executive Officer