Responding to public debate on migrant and refugee young people and crime

With equally concerned partners and allies in the research sector, CMY undertook partnerships with universities to formally document the experiences of multicultural young people to elevate their voices in a noisy and crowded media environment that spoke ‘about’ them in a judgemental manner. From 2017 to 2019, CMY partnered with researchers at both Monash and Melbourne Universities to undertake the Intergenerational Perspectives on the Criminalisation of Young People from the South Sudanese Community in Victoria research project. The research explored South Sudanese young people’s perspectives on the impact of the racialised reporting about crime focused on ‘African gang’ activity. It was a period of torrid media stories and reporting, following a so-called ‘riot’ at the 2016 Moomba celebrations held in Melbourne’s Federation Square. Findings of the research were shared through the 2018 report Don’t Drag Me Into This- Growing Up South Sudanese in Victoria After the 2016 Moomba ‘riot’. Through focus groups, young people reported an increase in the discrimination they experienced following the media reporting, which had ‘served to embolden people with pre-existing racism and xenophobic beliefs while simultaneously exacerbating the institutionalised racism that young South Sudanese Australians experience on a daily basis.’1

This was not a new issue to CMY, with Carmel Guerra having previously co-authored the book Ethnic Gangs in Australia: do they exist? released in 1999 in response to sustained media coverage and public debate about ‘ethnic youth gangs’ in the 1990s. In 2014, CMY published the paper Fair and Accurate? Migrant and Refugee Young People, Crime and the Media, illustrating the particular vulnerability of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to media assertions of criminality ‘given they are both ‘ethnic’ and ‘young’ – two identifiers that are often associated with criminal behaviour.’2 The Don’t Drag Me Into This report drew links between this latest incidence of sustained, racialised reporting targeting African, particularly South Sudanese, young people and similarly prejudicial reporting in 2007, illustrating the recurrent nature of this discrimination in the media and in public debate.

1Benier, K., Blaustein, J., Johns, D., & Maher, S. (2018). ‘Don’t drag me into this’: Growing up South Sudanese in Victoria after the 2016 Moomba ‘riot’. Melbourne: Centre for Multicultural Youth, Melbourne. p. 4.

2Centre for Multicultural Youth (2014) Fair and accurate? Migrant and Refugee Young People, Crime and the Media. Centre for Multicultural Youth, Melbourne. p.6