Police in Melbourne fear the emergence of militant street gangs of young African refugees who have served in militia groups in their war-ravaged homelands. A growing gangster mentality among young African men is worrying community leaders, who blame boredom, unemployment and drugs for turning young immigrants living in Melbourne's inner north towards violence and crime. Police sources have told The Australian that while gang-related activity had not reached epidemic proportions, "it is a serious concern".
Young African leader Ahmed Dini said some Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean men, predominantly aged between 16 and 25, felt disconnected from mainstream society and were either forming or joining ethnic groups for protection and also for a sense of belonging. He said they mainly lived in housing commission estates in the city's inner north - Flemington, Ascotvale and north Melbourne - and some had trained with heavy-duty military weapons while they were serving in militias overseas. "Some of them have used rocket launchers and grenades," said Mr Dini, who is chairman of the community-based youth network Saygo.
He said the migrants were haunted by childhood images of killings, torture and rape, and were constantly on edge. "Violence is not something new for these young people," he said. "And sometimes memories trigger them to do stupid things. "Sometimes they do some bad things ... like probably pick on other people, other groups, pick fights (with other ethnic groups). "They pick fights with Turkish, Lebanese, even with the African communities. "You have the Somalians from Flemington usually pick on Somalians from Carlton, so it's like a territorial kind of thing."
Mr Dini said some of the young men wielded baseball bats during the brawls. "They do have bats and stuff like that, and when they do hear there's a fight they turn up with their bats." He said while he was not aware of any structured African community gangs in the city's inner north, he was aware young Sudanese men from the western suburbs were becoming more established and organised in their gang activities.
But a police source told The Australian the street gangs were not usually structured or organised. "There isn't necessarily a leader and so on." The source said the hierarchy and leadership often comes into play when the gang is faced with some kind of adversity such as a territorial brawl. Mr Dini, who set up Saygo with 12 other young African leaders in September to tackle unemployment, education and criminal issues being faced by his community, said the state and local governments were largely responsible for the street gangs. This was because they had for years ignored the problems of unemployment and the lack of facilities, failing to devote enough resources and initiatives towards alternative activities. "There's no service-providers that help out the young people in the area," he said. "And the population of the youth is growing. And the more boys you have doing nothing, just hanging out, the more likely you're going to have problems that are going to arise."
Mr Dini warned that gang and crime-related problems within the African communities would eventually lead to "race riots" similar to those in France if governments continued to ignore the problem. "It could lead to deaths," he said.
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