Accessibility links

"Racist" Campaign Against Sudanese Refugees in Australia Not in Sync with Community

In Australia a small right-wing political group has been accused of sponsoring a hate campaign against Sudanese refugees. The battleground is the industrial city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, where the Concerned Citizens Collective is calling for an end to Sudanese immigration, blaming it for the crime wave in the city, but residents of Newcastle are opposed to such racism.

A busker (street performer) plays to lunchtime shoppers outside a Thai restaurant. Over the road there's a Turkish café, while further down there's an Italian pizzeria and around the corner stands a Greek community center.

Into this multiracial mix in Newcastle have come refugees from Sudan. But instead of acceptance - a right-wing group called the Concerned Citizens Collective is targeting them as undesirable. The group says it is made up of academics, university students and what it calls "other patriotic activists." They claim refugees are "running riot" in Newcastle and the city is at the mercy of criminal gangs formed by Sudanese migrants.

The anti-Sudanese campaign has support from the small nationalist Australia First Party. Its secretary, Jim Saleam, denies it is racist to want the refugees sent back to Sudan.

"I think we that have a social time-bomb that's building there,” he said. “The outcome of it is, I believe, the designer model is to create a small community of persons who have been artificially established with houses, jobs, a welfare-based income in order that they can then sponsor a large number of migrants over a period of time. I think these people should be returned to the Sudan. I think it should occur that these people should be assisted by the Australian government and I think Australia should take a positive role in peacekeeping in the Sudan."

Some 450 refugees from Sudan have been resettled in this city two hours drive north of Sydney. Here a community elder, Hakim, speaks about his hopes for his children in Australia.

Such optimism has been dampened by the call for the Sudanese to be repatriated. This is 45-year-old Joyce, who arrived in Australia as a refugee only six months ago.

"I actually felt, sort of, discouraged and I lose hope. But when immediately we found supporters and the migrant help centre supported us so much and many others, people like the mayor of Newcastle, I gained courage and hope," he said.

Modern Australia has been built on waves of immigration but this multicultural country still harbors pockets of racism.

Simon fled his home in southern Sudan 10 years ago and arrived in Australia in 1998. He's now a social worker, who back in the early days, was subjected to racial abuse.

"One of the people he threw my house every night with eggs,” he recalled. “They threw my house with eggs, normal eggs. And for my side I just realized why someone throwing with eggs everyday. What is wrong there? In the conclusion I arrived this is racist."

The bedrock of this small Sudanese community is resilience. These are people who've endured war, the disappearance of relatives and years in refugee camps.

Simon says the worst part of the deportation campaign against the Sudanese in Australia is that it reminds him of discrimination and abuse he fled in Sudan.

"99 percent of people in Newcastle are supporting us except the group of that people that is just one percent,” he explained. “And we cannot just worry about it. But it's really, really negative because it reminds us where we come from."

Violetta Walsh runs the government-funded Migrant Resource Center in Newcastle. It helps newcomers tackle what is often the daunting prospect of starting afresh in a strange land. The call to have Sudan's refugees thrown out of Australia was countered here by a large community demonstration. Ms. Walsh says the Concerned Citizens Collective won't succeed.

"The people who tried to have this anti-immigration, anti-Sudanese protest have done us a favor because they have allowed the people of Newcastle to come together and express their absolutely resounding support for refugee settlement in this area,” she added. “And I think in that regard sometimes these wicked things that happen can be a catalyst for great good."

The Australia First Party claims to have 1200 members. A recent nationalist rally it held in Newcastle attracted just more than a dozen people.

A short walk through a suburban shopping center found that most locals were enthusiastic about having refugees settle among them.

Woman1: "It stimulates people's growth and awareness of what's around the world and I think it's enriching because it brings things in, doesn't stagnate."

Man2: "The Sudanese people they're just a very small part of the community and they don't adversely affect anyone in the Newcastle area as far as I believe."

Woman2: "There are a couple of families in the suburb that I live in. I see them around quite frequently, my children wave to them, they wave back, the kids play together in the park."

The police say there's no evidence to support the allegations that Sudanese gangs are responsible for a surge in crime in Newcastle. The refugees themselves will tell you that as unpleasant as the campaign that targets them is, it has made them even more determined to stay and succeed.