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AUSTRALIA is set to drastically reduce its Sudanese refugee program this year.
With growing community concern about the behaviour of the refugees, Federal Cabinet will soon consider a proposal from Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to reduce the intake from Horn of Africa nations.
Australia’s humanitarian program has allowed thousands of Sudanese refugees to come to Australia in recent years.
But there are growing doubts about the wisdom of the decision, especially with the rise of gangs of Sudanese youths and drunk drivers.
There are about 18,000 Sudanese in Victoria, with many traumatised by their experience of civil war — and the challenge of living in a Western society.
A Sunday Herald Sun survey of 400 cases at magistrates’ courts across Melbourne found 14 per cent of offenders came from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East — many of them refugees — about 20 times the representative proportion of the population.
“Australia has one of the most generous humanitarian resettlement programs in the world at 13,000 a year,” Mr Andrews said yesterday.
“But immigration is a process, not an event.
“Successful immigration requires integration into the broader community.”
A high-profile court case this week highlighted the crime spree of a Sudanese man, Hakeem Hakeem, 21, who raped two teenage girls and an elderly women in a drunken, drug-fuelled episode. He was sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Hakeem had been in Australia for only one month before committing the crimes.
The proposed new policy would focus on settling refugees from the Asia Pacific region.
Sudanese elders believe their community is being unjustly targeted.
The elders yesterday blamed failures in Australian welfare and education systems for crimes in the community.
Jago Adongjak, an educator at the South Eastern Region Migrant Resource Centre and an elder of Melbourne’s 7000-strong Sudanese community, said many fellow migrants who had escaped the war-torn nation were facing a different conflict in Australia.
“I came here because there was a war in Sudan and I was a target for the junta,” Mr Adongjak said.
“I was expecting a peaceful land of opportunity — and there are opportunities — but we are also facing a battle here, to survive.”
Mr Adongjak dismissed claims the community did not respect or trust authorities as much as other cultures and had drink-drive issues.
“The Sudanese are not as bad as we are portrayed,” he said.
“We know because we have just had a meeting with the police and they told us according to their statistics the Sudanese are not anywhere near the worst community for crime in Victoria.
“And I know because I live in the community.
“On the issue of drink-driving, I would not say the Sudanese are exceptional either.”
The major cause of crime and restlessness in the community was disadvantage, he said. Large families did not receive adequate housing, with several children sharing small rooms.
Children struggled at school because they only had nine months to learn English before being put in classes based on their age, rather than ability.
Parents also found it hard to provide because their professional qualifications were not recognised, so they had to settle for lower-paid jobs, Mr Adongjak said.
(Posted on February 12, 2007)