Melbourne could take lead from Sydney on youth crime problem, Sudanese refugee says

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As Victoria’s African community debates how to tackle the issue of youth crime, a Sydney based Sudanese refugee has told of how the city used sport to get disengaged teens off the streets.

When South Sudanese refugee Mayor Chagai first moved to Sydney's western suburbs in 2006, he noticed a number of people from African communities who appeared restless, frustrated and disaffected.

What they would be doing is just loitering around in the street, just making noise or bump into each other that could bring in a fight, physical fight, either with a different background or with our own background,” he told SBS.

Sport, he believed, was the best way to engage them and so he started the basketball club 'Savannah Pride' and began recruiting teens off the street.

“We were not coming as community leaders or coming as people telling them what to do and walk away. We were with them every day, day and night. So we hung out with them, so we invested a lot of time to do that,” said Mr Chagai.  

A Sudanese refugee has spoken of how basketball has helped Sydney's youth.
South Sudanese refugee Mayor Chagai has spoken of how basketball has helped Sydney's youth.
SBS News

Today, the club continues to work with young people from all backgrounds. 

“They get mentored, they get support, and they have something that they feel belong to.”

Sixteen-year-old participant Ajou Adup says he's gained a string of life skills from the program. 

"I learn discipline, that's the number one thing and also, learn how to like play around new people and respect others," he told SBS. 

Victorian leaders seek solutions

Some parts of Victoria are now witnessing the same type of 'anti-social' behavior Mr Chagai observed on the streets of Sydney a decade ago.

A series of crimes last month have thrust the issue into the national spotlight, prompting leaders from African communities to convene a meeting.

Community members meet in Melbourne to discuss Sudanese youth crime.
Community members meet in Melbourne to discuss Sudanese youth crime.
SBS News

They too would like to see the ball their court.

"The community needs to be given more responsibility and resources. If we own the problem, then we should own the solution," Clyde Sharady, CEO of African Media Australia told SBS.

"The community wants to work with the government, the police, the young people and all partners in addressing these issues so we can help some of these disadvantaged and disengaged young people." 

He said circumstances within communities are complex so it won't be achieved overnight. 

"The reality, it starts with the family, many of these kids come from families that have had issues, coming from a war-torn situation, getting to Australia, a lot of time from a single parent, a single mother.

"In Africa, it takes a whole village to raise a child. In Australia, the village has disappeared, you're on your own."

Dutton weights in

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton weighed into the issue yesterday, saying people in Melbourne were scared to go out to restaurants at night because of "gangs."

Haileluel Gebre-Selassie, Chairperson of the African Think Tank said that kind of commentary won't help solve the problem.  

"Almost all African communities are participating and doing a really fantastic job in society, integrating with the community," he told SBS.

"Making that big statement doesn't help. It's much better to contain the situation, not over politicising the situation."

He added the actions of a "small minority" are a societal issue, not one confined to African communities.

"Talking about the entire African community is unhelpful, it's much better to look at the situation, what's happening. We are concerned like every other community." 

Mr Sharady agreed.

Peter Dutton's comments were poorly recieved by some Melbourne residents.
Peter Dutton's comments were poorly recieved by some Melbourne residents.
AAP

"The more these kids get isolated, the more crime we will see and those who are doing well will also be affected because they won't get jobs - many people would be afraid of them to give them jobs," he said. 

Following Mr Dutton's comments, Melbournian diners took to social media, uploading pictures of their meals insisting they are not too scared to go out.

In Footscray in Melbourne's west, home to a large community of people of African background, locals expressed a similar sentiment.

"I think it's getting blown out of proportion heaps. I never feel afraid out in the streets," one man told SBS.

"People come and eat...they stay here all night. Nobody actually does anything to anybody. It's over-exaggerating," said another.  

One woman told SBS she and her family always feel comfortable going out. 

"To me, it feels quite vibrant," she said. 

Source SBS News

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