RAC Statement: No to racist deportations

No to racist deportations

Migrant youth accused of committing crimes are being referred to Border Force for possible deportation. The Refugee Action Collective strongly opposes this trump-like scapegoating. In particular, we condemn attempts to change the law to allow for the deportation of children.

Despite saying, in a 19 January interview with 3AW, that “Australia does not deport children”, federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also noted that a federal parliamentary committee “is having a look at … whether, for example, the bar [for deportations] could be lowered from 18”. Dutton was vague on how low that bar might fall to: “17 or 16, or whatever the case might be”.

The Labor Party has not taken a principled stand against this racism. When asked about Dutton’s plan, Bill Shorten said the ALP would “look at what he’s saying” and accepted the principle that non-citizens who commit serious crimes have “no place in Australia”.

With the Victorian media’s endless reporting on the so-called Apex gang and on crimes committed by Sudanese youth, one might be led to believe that Sudanese people are overrepresented in violent crime statistics. This simply isn’t the case, as data from the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency confirm.

The “Apex gang” itself is a media invention. The Age reported that the supposed gang “has no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure”. In fact, no one had heard of the Apex gang until mass media reporting of a CBD brawl between young people in March last year. That incident would have been quite unremarkable had it not been for the particular skin colour of those involved.

It’s an unfortunate reality of the world in which we live that fights like this break out from time to time among people from all kinds of backgrounds. And it’s pretty normal for these incidents to go unreported in the media and certainly pass without police investigation, let alone deportations. For example, news.com.au reported in September last year:

“Victoria Police say they are not investigating an all-in-brawl at a suburban Aussie rules football match despite reports a pregnant woman was assaulted”. The Herald Sun reports a female spectator in the late stages of her pregnancy was kicked by as many as 20 people after fighting broke out on the sidelines at Wootten Road Reserve in Tarneit on Saturday.”

Disappointingly, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has reinforced the racist hysteria and law-and-order push. In the aftermath of the CBD brawl, he declared “we will come after you and you will feel the full force of the law”. He discounted the traumatic histories of Sudanese youth, saying “I’m not interested, and neither are Victorians, in these ‘poor me’ stories.”

Media and government scaremongering around the so-called Apex gang is about fostering a climate of hostility to reinforce the Australian government’s broader anti-refugee agenda.

The vilification of young migrants, the constant insinuation – or outright assertions – that they are criminals and a danger to society, is part of the same racist agenda that results in refugees languishing in offshore detention centres, experiencing abuse and torture at the hands of the Australian government and being deported back to danger.

Isaac Gatkuoth, a young Sudanese, is one victim of this.

At just nine years of age, Isaac arrived as a refugee after fleeing a horrifying childhood in Sudan. His mother has been missing since he was five, his two brothers were killed in the civil war that wracked the country, and only recently he was heartbroken to learn that his father had died when he was five.

Isaac suffers from PTSD and has developed a drug dependency. He was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 20 months in youth detention. But on top of that punishment, he will now be deported to a country which he fled when he was five, where the people he knew are long dead, and in which there is an ongoing civil war.

Isaac is in need of support, not cruelty and abandonment. We know that in Isaac’s outer south eastern suburbs, unemployment is often over 20 percent. We know that young people from Sudanese backgrounds experience many layers of racism and discrimination – including racial profiling by police – which limits their opportunities. And we know that there is a distinct lack of Australian government funding for social services to support people like Isaac.

Isaac and other young refugees and migrants in similar situations have the right to be in Australia, the right to protection and the right to be treated equally under the law.

Deporting young people back to the hell they previously escaped is a severe miscarriage of justice.