As a South Sudanese man who personally knows and mentors members of youth gangs in and out of prison, I firmly believe we have a major issue among young South Sudanese people in Melbourne.
After watching the horrendous and appalling behaviour committed by my fellow South Sudanese youth in the past few weeks, I am furious – and in total disbelief – to hear our top cop and government officials say there are no Sudanese gangs in Melbourne.
Keep in mind that some parents of offenders are not aware that their teens are in custody. The reason is because many Sudanese families have more than eight children and many of them are raised by a single parent.
Undeniably, yes, these gangs do exist and neither the police nor the government should say otherwise.
It is a fact that South Sudanese are overrepresented in crime statistics and are causing great harm and fear across communities in Melbourne.
I firmly believe young Sudanese people need to adapt and contribute to the Australian way of life immediately.
Yet nothing has been done by the government, Victoria Police or Sudanese community leaders.
There’s been a lot of talk, but no action.
I call on the government to act swiftly in assisting Sudanese teens to integrate into society.
Melburnians are sick and tired of excuses. We’ve got to make sure people are held accountable.
Some of these kids have gone too far now. They’re a disgrace to themselves, to their families and to their community.
This behaviour has been ongoing for nearly two years. Enough is enough.
It makes me ashamed and embarrassed to call myself a Sudanese.
It should not be tolerated moving forward into 2018.
I know what these kids are going through – but I also know what it’s like to be on the wrong end of their aggression.
I migrated to Melbourne from war-torn South Sudan in 2003, in hope of a better life.
Coming to Australia, it was a little bit difficult to integrate due to the culture shock and language barrier. But, eventually, you teach yourself to adapt to the Australian way of living.
Not only does it became a lot easier over time, you also learn to contribute and be thankful for this enormous opportunity given to you.
In 2011, I became the victim of a high-profile machete attack in Melbourne after coming to the aid of a stranger.
As a good Samaritan, I ended up being a victim and nearly bled to death.
It didn’t stop me. After my unsuccessful trial in England with Chelsea Football Club and Queens Park Rangers Football, earlier this year I switched codes to pursue an AFL career. I’m currently training with an AFL team.
I’ve always remained positive throughout everything I’ve been through. I’ve always been determined and driven to succeed.
As a professional athlete and as a person who overcame a lot of adversity throughout my life, I’m using this principle as a torch to guide these troubled youths to a positive, successful life.
So let’s create a solution that will prevent this from escalating further.
I regularly volunteer at the Melbourne Remand Centre, Melbourne Assessment Prison and Parkville Youth Justice Centre, where I meet with offenders of Sudanese descent. I try to direct them into a positive pathway while they’re in custody, and when they get released.
Here are five of my core, constructive solutions that could be implemented to help tackle issues with youth in general, but especially Sudanese youth.
1. Create spaces for young people to express their opinions – and listen to them
Rather than simply acknowledging them as victims or perpetrators of violence, it’s vital to engage youths as social actors, with their own views and their own contributions to make.
2. Enhance the peace-building, knowledge and skills of young people
It’s important to provide young people with the tools they need to become more effective change-makers.
In concrete terms, this means giving them access to the teachers, facilitators, educational programs and networks who can hone their conflict resolution and leadership skills.
Sudanese youth have caused so much havoc across other communities in Melbourne in the past 18 months that other ethics communities have disengaged with them due to fear, harassment and violence.
Peace-building with other communities is paramount to restore trust and faith.
That means reassuring other ethics communities that Sudanese are a great community and will eventually change in years ahead, preventing the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building and political, as well as economic, transformation.
Some of the most successful interventions find ways to leverage the things young people are interested in — arts, sports, media, informal learning and personal relationships — to teach peace-building skills.
For instance, youths are more likely to remember conflict management lessons they’ve learned through sports.
3. Build trust between youths, governments and community
Young people tend to view governments as beset by corruption.
Conversely, governments often fail to take into account the views of youths in policymaking, and may have different priorities for peace.
Youth mobilisation in peace-building efforts is more likely to be successful if young people are given the capabilities and opportunities to work with local and national governments.
Activities that promote the legitimisation of youths and foster their representation in local and national policymaking processes are crucial.
4. Promote intergenerational exchange
Youths are deeply influenced by the attitudes of their peers.
But rather than working with youths in isolation, peace-building projects that seek to engage youths should also include parents and elders.
We need to seek more inclusive means for young people to express themselves and interact with the wider-population.
5. Strengthen monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation activities need to be undertaken, improved and made routine across all peace-building initiatives which seek to engage youth.
We need to use qualitative evidence and participative approaches in particular to evaluate the impact of youth engagement in conflict resolution