Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Struggling to find a safe place to fit

 Published by ABC, Australia, 25 May, 2010.

Martin Garang Aher
The recent killing of Asamah Majur Manyang, in the Perth suburb of Stirling, has left the Sudanese-Australian community filled with fear and foreboding. Majur was killed last week while walking home with his friends. He was 21 years old.Majur and his family came to Australia from Egypt in late 2007. Santino Manyang, Majur's father, said he thought he had found a place of solace and healing for his family after escaping the brutality of Omar Bashir's Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan.

"My mind is spinning with confusion right now, looks like we are destined for troubles befalling us," he said.
Major Manyang was buried last week. His family was desperately trying to raise funds (A$7,000) for his burial and funeral. "My son is not yet buried, and I don't have the money for his burial," he said, sobbing.
Although the circumstances of his death are still subject to investigation, Majur's death has brought home to the entire Sudanese Community in Australia how death is equated with guilt - at least when it comes to the death of a Sudanese.

Many people in the community are now fearful, if not traumatised, by the chain of events leading to the deaths of Sudanese youth in Australia.
Just a few days after Majur's death Savir Tutu, a child of less than three years old, was run over and killed by two cars in Beachboro. He was walking home with his brother. The first offender hit, then ran. The second driver, who did stop, said he did not see the child. The child was wearing dark clothes. He fell short of saying the child was dark and couldn't be seen clearly.
What is it about suburban streets that make them so lethal to Sudanese-Australians? And how does it come about that an action involving the death of a Sudanese is often blamed on the victim?
The truth is that many youth of Sudanese background prefer walking to avoid being unnecessarily stopped by police. They see it as harassment.

We Sudanese migrants and refugees arrived in this country thinking we would enjoy new lives in a free land. Now our belief that all would be fine is beginning to prove elusive. There is no acceptance that there exists an ethnic tension surrounding our presence that requires a resolution; instead, the police and the media are keen to suppress the reality of this ethnic tension.

We have been portrayed by the media, politicians and others as a troubled group. Criminologists in this society will agree that there is a high level of unsubstantiated stigma attached to Sudanese and their youth. As in the work of the anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, criminal types are marked by prejudicial characteristics based on their body features.In the case of the Sudanese, they are described as: African, dark-skinned, tall, always in groups, and so on.But are we really criminals or rescued in need of re-rescuing?
Sudanese-Australians don't rob people or banks, break into public facilities, engage in burglary or vandalism, molest children or deface public amenities with graffiti.

Many of us study but never find jobs. The 520 hours of English language training is certainly not sufficient to enable anyone get a job. The conditions and measures necessary for blending in have been overlooked by the government and sceptics alike and the frustration of doing little is turned into a blame game in which Sudanese are told they have difficulty integrating.

Many bloggers, such as Andrew Bolt, echo this and write with bitterness. They write that Sudanese are troubled from a troubled country, therefore criminals. But are they generally troubled? Is there cure for a troubled person or is consistent targeting such as persistent and annoying checks on the road the ultimate solution?Yes, bloggers maybe right. Sudan is a troubled country. Those who came here were troubled. If a policeman stops you in the streets of Khartoum it means you start counting every tick of your watch as a countdown to the moment of your death. Memories still run wild of course. That is why we want to leave the road and walk. But walking has its downsides. What should we do?

These bloggers seemed to have adopted the sentiments expressed by Kevin Andrews, the former immigration minister, when he asserted after the killing of yet another young Sudanese that some groups don't seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian way of life.
The Sudanese community failed to comprehend the logic of the comment.
Liep Gony was murdered in the most gruesome way on Wednesday 26, 2007. But all that came from the minister was the blame for not integrating. Labeling all Sudanese in Australia as criminals is puzzling and to our community, it is inappropriate and traumatising. Criminals kill; they don't get killed every time. To move around in groups is not a sign of criminality. What makes social groupings seem inherently criminal?

These bloggers are ill-informed. They say Sudanese are troubled people from a troubled country and therefore, require a thorough screening. What sort of screening? Do they mean Sudanese immigrants shoudl not associate altogether?

They want the immigration to screen us properly before allowing anyone into the country yet what they don't know is that Australia's system of offshore screening is already rigorous. Even we migrant refugees know that it is not easy to get through it. The bloggers are oblivious to these facts.

Sudanese-Australians believe that Australia is home for them. Many Australians accepted us as such, but we will reserve the right to respond to comments made by the people wallowing in the miasma of hate.
Let it be known that we are doing our best. All we say is, Australia, give us a go!

Martin Garang Aher is studying for a masters degree in
Communication and Cultural studies at Curtin University.

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