Uniting Church minister and South Sudanese refugee Rev Paul Dau says some of the recent media coverage and high-level political commentary on African youth crime comes is hugely disappointing.
The newly ordained Springvale Uniting Church minister endorsed comments from UCA President Stuart McMillan who yesterday said the spread of fear and negativity about South Sudanese and other African communities is a “blight on our public life”.
Mr Dau, who has lived in Australia since 2003 after leaving behind his family to flee civil war in Sudan at age 10 and spending the next 16 years trekking across Africa and living in refugee camps, said that a negative portrayal of his community was nothing new.
“This is not the first time we are used to this kind of media coverage or political commentary. It has been going on for a decade or more,” he said.
Mr Dau said it was sadly true that a small number South Sudanese youth in Victoria were engaged in criminal and anti-social behaviour.
“What is disappointing is that first of all I have to admit that as a community we are not in agreement or happy with what a few of the young people within the South Sudanese community, or African as a whole, are doing. That is the fact that has to be acknowledged,” he said.
However, Mr Dau said the media and political commentary, which has seen notable contributions at a federal level by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton, has not been helpful.
“The amount of coverage that is given to this tiny group of people within the community seems to portray the rest of the community in the same manner,” Mr Dau said.
“This is where a huge disappointment is coming from and especially when it is taken up the government and the prime minister in particular. That’s really discouraging because we are trying our best to ensure that we fit within the community.”
Mr McMillan called some of the media and political commentary highly destructive.
“I find it deeply regrettable and offensive that some of our political leaders and media have begun the New Year by demonising a group of young African men,” Mr McMillan said.
“This is no doubt hurtful to many Africans who have made Australia their home and do their level best to contribute to the Australian community whilst in many cases also supporting loved ones in their home nations.”
Mr Dau said that while some South Sudanese youth were being affected by issues such as a breakdown in parenting, high unemployment and housing difficulties there were significant efforts being made to overcome this.
“There are a number of initiatives coming forth from the state government, the local communities and the community at large to ensure the newly arrived migrant is supported and that integration into the larger community is encouraged,” he said.
“No one can deceive themselves that that can be achieved overnight. It is going to be a process.”
Yesterday Mr McMillan urged more recognition of the good news stories out of the South Sudanese and other African communities.
“Our politicians and media need only lift their eyes to the wonderful African communities of faith to find positive role models and affirmation,” he said.
He pointed to the South Sudanese National Conference held in Melbourne last September as a glowing example of South Sudanese youth “taking their future into their own hands.”
Mr Dau agreed that such positive stories were often being ignored or drowned out.
“If you happen to visit one of the South Sudanese places where we gather and see what young people are doing you will have a different perspective,” he said.
Friday Forum question: Is the coverage and commentary on African youth crime excessive and unbalanced?