Sudanese activists: ‘Reject the link between ethnicity and crime’

Green Left Radio on 3CR spoke to Anas Alwakil, a Sudanese community activist and Nawal Ali, a social worker and advocate for women, on January 19 about the federal government’s fear-mongering and the so-called Sudanese gang crime wave that has hit Victoria.

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Anas Alwakil

This [racist campaign] has been going on for a long time and has been used again and again by politicians. I think it happened previously during the [John] Howard government when the then-immigration minister [Philip Ruddock] said that the Sudanese community is not integrating well, especially in employment and education. 

There is a problem. The African or Sudanese community is struggling, but is this a crime wave? Is there a relationship between race and crime? No, this is a problem that has social and economic roots and we need to explore those roots. We need to explore the causes of the problem. 

In 2007, I lived in Reservoir where there were many Sudanese youth. I saw this problem coming up, because of so many factors. I will go through them.

Let us start with the police. When I lived there, the youth used to say that the police were targeting them. The police were racially profiling them and discriminating against them.

For a teenager who is 14 or 15, to be targeted by the Victorian police is a significant thing that will change their life. That is one of the issues that we have to talk about. Instead of supporting them, are we pushing them towards crime and feeling marginalised?

Let’s talk about the schooling system. Many of these youth come from a background where they did not have access to a school. Or they live in an area where the schools are not well resourced.

We all know that there is a problem within the education system: the funding model is not suitable.

Whether the kids have access to resources, opportunities, education, employment and recreation — these are the political issues that the government does not want my community to talk about. But we would like to talk about them if we are the “problem”. 

If we follow their argument, it leads back to the idea that Africans have lower IQ than white people, and that is the reason they commit more crime. In the US, there is such a theory that is being discussed.

If you follow that path — to link crime to ethnicity — that will lead to a devastating discussion that will impact on our youth and children. 

There is anger among the youth, who are disadvantaged due to the political and economic changes. In many ethnic communities and cultures across Australian cities and regional areas, this is also accompanied by drug use. This goes back to not getting a good quality education and employment opportunities. 

When we arrived in Australia, we Sudanese were highly visible. We were such a small community and, as there were no others who looked like us, we attracted attention. That attention is annoying and makes us feel bad. Add to that, the discrimination we face in schools, by the police and services. Certainly, that leads to marginalisation and anger. 

I also want to talk about family.

Families have been torn apart by bad intervention from the social services. It takes more than 20 minutes to talk about the causes of what is happening now and how to address it.

We live as a collective, and we value family and being together. We used to have very little [materially] but we had so much family and community support and that made us strong.

When we arrived here, we didn’t have community support. That is a big change for us. The social services made a mistake in not addressing the causes of our issues early on. When they did come in, it was too late to do much and led to families separating. In some cases men returned to Sudan as they felt that they could not hold their families together.

This is such a harmful feeling as it leads to further problems. The kids feel it too. The kids face issues at home and then on the streets, and they have nowhere to go. 

Nawal Ali

The Sudanese community is working to review our cultural practices, and we are trying to support the parents and care givers to take a family-centred approach.

Many families have significant difficulties in adjusting to their new lives. The racial profiling has caused real harm and alienated the community.

Those migrating to a new country and culture are excited because they have come from harsh living conditions. The families have been through significant trauma. We need to find a way of helping the bonding between parents and the new generation born here. Both young people and their parents need support. 

It is very complicated for new refugees coming to Australia and the African communities are the very latest migrants. We need to address the problems they face accessing education, services and employment.

Racism also means that they face social isolation. There has to be culturally appropriate interventions and support to help those affected by past trauma. We cannot provide services that disregard their experience in the camps.

For this community to be able to resettle, there has to be a connection between them and local community groups and services. We also need to educate local communities about how best to support the refugees’ transition process.

They also need to discuss the transition into schools and communities, free from negative stereotyping and racial profiling and harassment. We need to understand how these people were living and the challenges they face. 

Many people still think that Africa is one country and they ask me if I speak African! This is a misunderstanding, of course.

Women are at the forefront of the project to help young people acclimatise to their new country. We aim to stop social isolation and help develop the skills and education. We are also trying to work with a youth leadership to assist them in making informed decisions about their lives. 

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