Call for South Sudanese youth strategy change

Photo: Sayed Hassan Ali
A prominent African-Australian leader says government attempt to solve domestic violence and high school truancy in the South Sudanese community is failing. Sayed Hassan Ali reports.




The Federal Government’s attempt to solve domestic violence and high school truancy in the South Sudanese community is failing, says a community leader.

Dr Behan Ahmed, the Eritrean-born scientist, chief executive of a group called the African Think Tank and former Victorian of the Year, warns that the the government needs to understand South Sudanese people come from a lawless society and tend to take more risks than other African people.

The government is not giving community leaders the opportunity to help solve their domestic violence issues and government officials are not recognising the huge cultural differences migrant refugees confront, according to Dr Ahmed.

“If you have any argument with your wife it’s family values. So, if they [law enforcement agencies] take the man to jail there is no one in the house to look after the children. It is the father who maintains discipline within the family,” said Dr Ahmed.

He also said the police and child protection organisations are seen as interfering in the life of the South Sudanese community, which is creating resentment among many parents.

“In an effort to avoid problems, you are creating more victims,” said Dr Ahmed.

Dr Ahmed claims inadequate education funding is also a major reason for high crime in the South Sudanese community.

He said the government is enrolling refugee children at schools based on their age and not their academic and English level skills.

As a result, newly arrived refugee children are becoming frustrated and dropping out, he said.

It has also become more difficult for adolescent and adults to find jobs as the Australian economy from low-skilled manufacturing to service-based economy.

This is driving many into crimes or they feel trapped given that they are unskilled and have poor command of the English language, he said.

The average age of petty criminals of South Sudanese background is 20  compared to 38 for the broader community, according to government statistics.

Criminal record checks are an additional barrier in ex-offender’s employment, even when they are charged for minor crimes such as shoplifting, according to Dr Ahmed.

This increases the likelihood such young people will remain involved in crime for the rest of their lives and government is failing to understand the longer repercussions of their actions,  he said.

The South Sudanese community has recently been accused by Federal Home Minister Peter Dutton of high involvement in crimes and involvement in gangs, such as the notorious Apex.

Mr Dutton’s comments caused a backlash on media and social networking websites by many members of public and leaders of the African community.

Most South Sudanese people arrived in Victoria between 2003 and 2006, with the majority of them as refugees because of the civil unrest in Sudan.

South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2011 and still faces civil war. The 29 per cent unemployment rate their community is the highest in Australia, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

‘It is very hard to get a job here and I have been looking for six-months,’ said Jamal Ahmed, a newly arrived 45 year-old refugee in Australia from South Sudan.

Jamal [who is not related Behran Ahmed] also claimed that he does not have a community that might assist him and wants more acceptance from the Australian community.

Dr Ahmed founded the African Think Tank (AFT) in 2007.

He has been vocal in his efforts to bridge the gap between the African community with the law enforcement agencies and the wider local community.

For example, ATT is also working with the Junior Australian Football League to integrate children at a young age with the children in the wider local community.

Dr Ahmed claims that ATT has been sharing information with the Victorian police about the criminals in their community.

“Employing people from the South Sudanese community to be part of the police force will be beneficial but due to bureaucracy it is hard to be employed [as police officers],” said Dr Ahmed.

Dr Ahmed arrived in Australia in 1987 as a refugee from Eritrea and started his career as a tram conductor. He was Victorian of the Year in 2009 for his outstanding community contribution.

“The welcoming process was great, the first impression [of Australia] was great, that what gave me energy to look at the sky,” said Dr Ahmed recalling his arrival in Australia.

“This is heaven. I come from a place where people were shooting each other. When I arrived in Australia, people would ask me, ‘what you need,’ and that was the first time I [ever] heard someone asking what I needed,” said Dr Ahmed.

Dr Ahmed is a scientist at Melbourne University, and has also been involved in Australian politics. He contested for the Victorian senate election in 2004 and the 2012 Melbourne mayoral election to encourage new migrants to participate in mainstream politics.