POLICE are advising the Immigration Department for the first time about how and where to settle troubled African refugees.
Senior Victorian police have urged the department to settle Sudanese families in country towns such as Mildura and Sale, away from suburban Melbourne where young African men are being caught up in street crime.
The Australian understands that police first appealed to immigration officials last year following a spike in criminal activity among young Sudanese men, while Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon was attempting to play down the problem.
Sudanese gang violence escalated last September, with the fatal bashing of 19-year-old Liep Gony near Noble Park railway station, in Melbourne’s east.
Police advised against settling Sudanese in “dysfunctional areas” such as housing commission flats in Melbourne’s north and east, and a growing number of the 15,000-member state community are now living in Mildura, Sale and Wonthaggi.
African Think Tank chairman Berhan Ahmed yesterday praised the rural settlement, saying it would help the Sudanese integrate, find work and avoid drugs, alcohol and street crime.
“The influence of drugs and alcohol will not be there, and it will be much easier for kids and refugee families to adjust in rural areas,” he said.
Dr Ahmed—a Melbourne University senior research fellow studying refugees living in rural Victoria and their city counterparts—said young Africans living in the country were more likely to perform better at school and get work.
While it was difficult to resettle refugees who were already living in Melbourne, he said the Brumby Government could offer them better housing and jobs to encourage them to move.
“You entice them by giving them opportunities,” he said.
Victoria Police’s multicultural liaison officer, Joseph Herrech said helping Sudanese refugees to settle in Melbourne was a challenge for immigration officials and police.
He said grouping the Sudanese together at times led to crime-related problems, and separating them often exacerbated their emotional hardship.
“We’ve recommended to Immigration that they be spread out slightly more,” he said.
Other police recommendations to the immigration department include developing better pre-departure programs for humanitarian refugees to educate them more about Australian culture, the judicial process and the law-enforcement agencies.
Police sources have told The Australian that gangs involving Sudanese men, including African Power and the Bloods and Crips—inspired by the Los Angeles-based crime groups—have grown in numbers and become more of a concern in the suburbs of Collingwood and Carlton.
Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews decided to cut back the African refugee intake last year amid fears they were not “settling and adjusting” into Australian life.