Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sudanese in the Firing Line

Here's a joke for ya:

Q: What do you call a group of ethnic kids hanging around together?
A: A gang.

Q: What do you call a group of Anglo-Australian kids hanging around together?
A: A group of Anglo-Australian kids hanging around together.



Earlier this year, Pauline Hanson (the red-haired and red-necked former parliamentarian) called for government cuts to African immigration to Australia. Fast forward a few months, and our esteemed leaders in the Liberal Party have proved that when it comes to matters of race, Pauline is calling the shots yet again. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has announced that the refugee intake from Africa is to be slashed, citing a dossier detailing a raft of social problems alleged to be inflicting the Sudanese community.


Murdered TAFE student Liep Gony, and his family in mourning (below).



The bashing death of Sudanese teenager Liep Gony at Noble Park train station has highlighted the question of whether Sudanese and other African refugees are successfully settling into the local community. Which is strange; given that his accused killers are both white, why are the politicians and media not whipping up a frenzy about the violent tendencies of white people and the need to reduce the immigration of white people to Australia? After all, Port Arthur gunman Martin Bryant is white, as is convicted serial killer Ivan Milat and serial rapist Peter Dupas … can you see a pattern here?

Clearly I’m being silly here (so don’t write that angry comment just yet). But the main reason the Sudanese community have become such a target is because they look different. Being very dark of skin and typically very tall, the Sudanese are the most distinctive-looking of all the ethnic groups to have settled in Australia. They get noticed in a way that most other ethnic groups do not. If some Sudanese people were hanging around outside your shop or in your street, you’re much more likely to notice them than you would a group of Asians or Europeans. And being black, being tall and having a tendency to dress like Tupac Shakur means that Sudanese youths are perceived to look scarier than other young people.

Think on this: when an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, do the media describe that person as being of Anglo-Australian descent? No. Yet we frequently see ethnicity being painted as a relevant issue when a non-European commits a crime. Try googling the case of Taban Gany, the Dandenong man who drunkenly crashed his car into a school building and injured several students. You will struggle to find an article that doesn't refer to him as "Sudanese refugee Taban Gany".

Mr Andrews’ dossier lists a variety of social ills that apparently beset the Sudanese in Australia: fighting in clubs, drinking alcohol in parks, domestic violence, and anti-social behaviour by groups of young men. Now, I could be wrong but looking at that list, it seems to indicate that the Sudanese are integrating perfectly into the Australian way of life, because anyone with open eyes knows that those behaviours are rife in the wider Australian community. Indeed, Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon has publicly stated that the Sudanese are no more represented in crime statistics than any other group.

So if this is so, why has it become a political issue? You don't need to be a genius to figure out that it could have something to do with the looming election. The Howard government likes to portray itself as protecting middle Australia from swarthy foreign elements; this approach has won them an election in the past, why not try it again? If Andrews is not actually playing the race card, at the very least he is being irresponsible. The decision to reduce the African intake to accommodate asylum seekers from Burma and Iraq is perfectly understandable; but Andrews' use of this decision to take shots at the Sudanese is a foolish and incompetent display from a Minister for Immigration.

This is not to suggest that the Sudanese community is without its problems. Like any refugee group, there are struggles to learn a new way of life and to integrate. And some of these problems will be magnified when you consider the degree of trauma and violence some of the new arrivals have experienced. In addition, the level of schooling and exposure to modern urban living is much lower among Sudanese new arrivals than most other refugee groups. And they come from a patriarchal society where years of civil war and repression have encouraged a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and distrust of authority.

These have been given as examples for excluding them from migrating here, the reasoning being their background and culture makes it too difficult to settle here. But it just means that as a society we need to work harder to welcome the Sudanese and help them to make the adjustment - our integration services are not working well enough. Because the alternative is letting them starve in squalid refugee camps in Kenya and Egypt, and as a society we can do better than that.

I hope that Mr Andrew's statements do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most Sudanese young people I have dealt with are acutely conscious of the sting of racism and persecution, and they have good reason to be. With the government whipping up more hatred and suspicion, Andrews is only making it more likely that young Sudanese will lash out against a system that treats them as outsiders.

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