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Saying thank you to an ambivalent society


Sudanese Lost Boys Assocation of AustraliaRecently, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, Akoch Manheim, coordinator of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia, organised an Appreciation Day where the newly arrived South Sudanese community engaged in some community work. Despite the jubilant atmosphere and images of the South Sudanese men, woman and children planting trees in the park, the most remarkable aspect of this event was that it happened at all.

The day served two purposes. One was to thank Australia for granting them a new life after the terror and bloodshed of their homeland. The other was to rectify the misleading image perpetrated by some of Australia’s media and politicians that the Sudanese community are a bunch of refugee thugs.

The fact that 25-year-old Akoch managed to get the day off the ground, despite the lack of assistance, is indicative of this much maligned community’s desire to contribute to Australian society.

The Immigration Minister, Mr Kevin Andrews, recently declared that he will soon be drafting a proposal to drastically reduce the refugee intake from the Horn of Africa Nations, citing the apparent lawlessness of African refugees. "Successful immigration means integrating to the wider community", he said sternly, omitting the fact that integration is a two-way process.

It seemed that the Tamworth City Council was also oblivious to this concept last year when it rejected five Sudanese families' settlement in the community. The council feared that it could "lead to a Cronulla riots-type situation". Tamworth Mayor James Treloar even went as far as stating that Sudanese refugees could cause a tuberculosis outbreak in the community.

In January there was widespread media coverage of around 1500 well organised hoons and spectators gathered for illegal 'burnouts' in Noble Park, in suburban Melbourne. This was followed by rioting, police taunting and concluded with the systematic looting of public and private property. The response from Dandenong Councillor Alan Gordon to the rioting was that "they are just a few kids going out on a Friday night".

Contrast this reaction to that of Dandenong Councillor Peter Brown a week prior, when a local Sudanese youth was arrested after an incident at a private function. In a shrill letter to the Age, Councillor Brown lamented how Australia’s refugee policy has turned his beloved Dandenong into a 'repository' of all the world’s ethnic crisises, and that "the problems at Noble Park station were not there before the jumbos flew in".

Saying thank you to an ambivalent societyThe education system for Australia’s newly arrived refugees is crucial. Upon arrival adult migrants are enrolled in the Adult Migration English Program (AMEP) and are given only 510 hours to learn a new language. The 510 hour figure was derived from a study that sourced only ten percent of AMEP students back in 1993, when the program was first initiated.

African youth are also crippled by the government’s current education policy of placing students in classes dependent on age, not by level of knowledge. This is a breeding ground for discontent and frustration. The challenges of learning a new language and being accepted in the classroom force many African youth to drop out of school and head to the streets, where drugs and alcohol are readily accessible.

This is merely a snapshot of the challenges facing war-torn African refuges in Australia. But despite all the hurdles and racist stereotypes, these refugees continue to chorus their appreciation to Australians for our sometime hospitality and for returning to them their basic human rights. To the Sudanese community, being an Australian is a godsend. This is why they spent a chilly afternoon planting trees in the Collingwood Children's Farm and concluded the day with a free concert. They wanted to say thank you to Australians for allowing this small community to also call the lucky country home.

Sometimes I wonder if we deserve it.



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Existing comments

There is an underlying anger to this article which pricks ones conscience. I would be interested to know what Saeed's connection to the Sudanese community is.

Lucy Anderson | 14 June 2007  

Saeed Saeed speaks about the lives of young Sudenees men who have come to Australia recently as refugees and some are finding settling down in a strange society difficult. I worked for the the Catholic Parish Priest, Peter Carrucan in Holy Eucharist Parish St Slbans in a refugee settlement programme which included` a large number of young Sudaneese men in particular. Some of the problems faced by young people mentioned by Saeed we also faced and we provided some services that helped to even out the difficulties for thoes young people. I live in Seaford which is a long way from many of the suburbs refugees go when they first arrive but should there be an oppertunity to lend a hand somewhere close by I would be happy to have a yarn with the organisers. We learned in our work that many of the problems faced by young male Sudaneese refugees were similar to the problems faced by all young men ie getting an education, finding a job, having friends to knock about with, meeting some girls, having a good time, learning to cope with all of the options of modern life/ alcohol, cigerattes, cars, entertainment these are the issuus common to all youth and a small dose of knowing leadership will help the Sudaneese youthe ease into our culture.

kevin vaughan | 15 June 2007  

The Anglican Church is involved with the Sudanese community. here at St Eanswythes Church on saturday mornings a SAIL session is held were young sudanese are helped to assimilate into the Australian Community. We also have Sudanese worshipping in our St Clements congregation at Altona Meadows. they also have their own services held on a sunday afternioon at St eanswythes

john ozanne | 20 June 2007  

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