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Poverty Blamed for Clashes Between Aborigines, African Refugees

Refugee leaders and police in the Australian city of Darwin say poverty is behind a series of attacks on young African immigrants by gangs of Aboriginal teenagers. Some young immigrants have been forced to leave Darwin, a city known for its cosmopolitan society.

Wielding chains and baseball bats, a gang of Aborigine youths targeted young Africans immigrants playing soccer in suburban Darwin this year. Community leaders say hostility toward the refugees, who mostly come from Sudan and Somalia, is getting worse.

One victim of the recent violence, Felix, arrived seeking a fresh start in Australia's tropical north in 2006.

"Two times now that I've been attacked. One was in the city. According to what people were saying I was knocked unconscious," he stated.

Darwin's African community has been growing steadily since the early 1990s but the assaults began this year.

The authorities say they do not think the assaults have been racially motivated. Instead, they say, the spark has been poverty. Australian police say that disadvantaged young Aborigines believe that African refugees have received preferential treatment when it comes to jobs, education and housing. Senior officers have also accused the immigrants of carrying out attacks, too.

Aborigines are Australia's poorest ethnic group. The country's indigenous inhabitants suffer from high rates of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Their life expectancy is about 16 years shorter than the average for Australia.

Edward Solo, who represents the African community in Darwin, has formed a special committee to try to ease the tensions.

"To be able to reach out across to our indigenous brothers and sisters and make them to know that there is actually no reason for us to have this thing to continue," he said.

Schools have joined efforts to promote greater harmony between Australia's original inhabitants and recent arrivals.

Refugee groups in Darwin think the violence will only ease when all impoverished communities get the help they need.

Refugee advocates say Australia has been ill-prepared to cope with the needs of African immigrants, who arrive with poor levels of health and education from countries torn by civil unrest.