People from Africa, particularly South Sudan, have reported facing a high level of discrimination in Australia, especially during contact with police.
The finding comes from the ninth Australia Today report by the Scanlon Foundation, which examines public opinion on social cohesion, trust, immigration, asylum seekers and ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.
It found more respondents from African groups than other group indicated experiencing discrimination – 77% of those born in South Sudan, 75% from Zimbabwe, 67% from Kenya, 60% from Ethiopia, 53% from Egypt.
The report found: “A relatively high proportion of South Sudanese, 59%, indicated that they had experienced discrimination when in contact with police over the last 12 months, 26% indicated that their property had been damaged, and 17% that they had been subject to physical attack.”
“These findings are consistent with a number of issues raised in focus group discussion.”
About 10,000 people were surveyed and the foundation held 51 focus group discussions involving 285 participants in Victoria.
Bright Chinganya is the director of Carers of Africa, a non-profit organisation in Victoria which works to improve access to health and community services for refugees. He said he was not surprised by the findings of the Scanlon report.
He said he recently had a group of teenagers come into his office saying they had been called a “pack of ethnics” while walking down the street.
“I know a few boys who get asked by police to show their tickets every time they are at the train station, and some report having their cars stopped by police frequently and being asked to show them their licence,” Chinganya said.
“Just in the past two weeks I had parents come into my office because their kids in year 11 and 12 were picked up by police and accused of stealing from a shop, because CCTV footage apparently just showed them near the area. According to them, they were not responsible.”
Children commonly reported being bullied because of their ethnicity at school, he said.
But Chinganya said he also believed some people from African backgrounds had a “defensive mechanism” and sometimes wrongly believed they were being targeted.
“I think we need a lot of education to educate the Africans and non-Africans that this is not a place to discriminate against one another,” he said. “I think we need community engagement programs where groups can meet and have a fun night and games.
“It’s also good for African organisations and community leaders to invite non-Africans to their functions so they can come together to make these barriers fall down.”
Kot Monoah, chairman of the South Sudanese Community Association says that recent media reports about the fictitious “Apex gang” – comprising young men in Melbourne’s south-east from a range of backgrounds, including Sudanese, Pacific Islander, Māori and Caucasian – had not helped public and police perceptions of African people. Some of the responses to the gang’s activities were criticised for making unfair statements about African youth.
Monoah, a personal injury lawyer, said Victoria police were making a concerted effort to improve their engagement with the African community. He said police attended a community seminar with the association on Saturday. However, some people at that forum said they had been discriminated against by police, he said.
“For example, being targeted and over-policed in public areas like at bus stops and train stations,” he said. “It’s an awful feeling for any person in Australian society to go through that.
“That’s not to say there aren’t people within the police engaging with the community really well, but that respectful engagement tends to occur at the top end of the leadership hierarchy and the lower end of the hierarchy don’t get it right a lot of the time.”
By: Melissa Davey
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