African gangs: Malcolm Turnbull, community leaders react to crime issue

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malcolm turnbull
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton listens on during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, April 18, 2017. AAP/Lukas Coch/via Reuters

The Australian prime minister has warned of threats brought by African criminal gangs, but his comments appeared to have led to accusations of sentencing for political purposes. Some community leaders expressed disappointment about the way the issue is being handled.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday appeared to accuse Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria State, of failure to address the “growing gang violence and lawlessness” in his state following a series of reported crimes by African-born offenders. Some argued that the attacks on Andrews coincide with an approaching election.

Carmel Guerra, chief executive of the Center for Multicultural Youth in Victoria, said she was disappointed in the media coverage, but specifically appalled by the manner the issue has become partisan. “Rather than scapegoating these young people, we should try to work out what’s going on,” she said. Guerra noted similar political efforts when the country previously dealt with large migrations from the Middle East and Vietnam.

Sudanese immigrants were overrepresented in criminal arrests, Victoria crime statistics showed. A parliamentary inquiry last year revealed that Sudanese and South Sudanese immigrants make up approximately half a percent of the state’s population.

Figures show that most crimes in Victoria were committed by Australian-born offenders. Up to 1,462 serious assaults were committed by Australian-born youth offenders between June 2016 and June 2017. This can be compared to 45 for those born in Sudan.

A lawyer argued that Melbourne’s gang violence must be regarded as an Australian youth issue. Refugee Nyadol Nyuon blasted federal Liberal MP Jason Wood’s call for African youths to be deported once convicted of offences such as home invasion, carjacking or violent crime.

The state police minister has assured that the reported African gang crisis in Melbourne is not an issue for Geelong. “There is no evidence at all of African street gangs in Geelong nor any evidence that they are or will target Geelong,” Bellarine MP Lisa Neville said. Speaking with the Geelong Advertiser, she stated that she would not be drawn into politicising the issue.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins and Swinburne University’s Stephane M Shepherd said the demography of the Sudanese population in Victoria was pivotal to understanding the crimes. The forensic psychology professor told The New York Times it goes back to the migration. “There’s a disproportionate amount of young males coming over, as part of the humanitarian intake,” Shepherd said, noting half of the Sudanese population in Australia is 25 or under.