RMCC were incredibly excited to attend an end-of-year event run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) that examined the current debate around crime and young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Speakers explained how unfortunately the public’s perception of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds is often associated with crime and offending behaviour, with unbalanced media stories sometimes reinforcing such stereotypes. The portrayal of crime in the media is therefore incredibly alarming and provides a paradox to recent evidence which shows that youth crime in Victoria has fallen in recent years despite what the headlines suggest.

The focus of the event was a talk by special guest, Rob Hulls, the Director of the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University, who provided a fresh perspective on the narrative around young people in the media. He highlighted various headlines published in the last six months throughout Victoria that reported crime related issues and explained how sensationalized media portrayals build a case for panic instead of addressing the cause of juvenile crime. As a consequence, these unbalanced stories lead to misinformed public perceptions that have a detrimental impact on the lives of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Hulls stated that what is most concerning is that when individuals encounter such barriers it is incredibly easy to give up because it appears they are in a helpless situation due to detrimental stereotypes.

From his talk, it is evident that Hulls passionately believes that in order to tackle crime and refugee and migrant youth, education is the key. Education provides powerful guidance of future actions so it is important to ensure that young refugee and migrant youth have the necessary facilities and support systems to let them develop both academically and socially. He spoke about how we must get better at ensuring children are properly engaging at school to stop them falling down the poverty to prison pipeline.

It is important to recognize that the young people caught up in the juvenile justice system represent the most disadvantaged individuals in our community. Arguably, a major shakeup is required of Australia’s current system in order to build future paths to prevention and rehabilitation. Hulls suggested that perhaps Australia should look to Spain, and the work of not-for-profit organization Diagrama for guidance. Diagrama runs 38 re-education centres in Spain on an understanding that if children are going to be jailed, they need to be nurtured, educated and rehabilitated. Thus, a good day within this centre is one where children have learned well and made progress. There is special emphasis on the level and nature of staffing with the staff who run the centres being called educators and requiring degrees from Engineering to the Arts and English Literature to Commerce.

What was evident from CMYs looking behind the headlines session was that in order to address the current issues facing youth migrant and refugees, we need to place greater emphasis on early intervention measures. Hulls explained how such measures tackle the root cause of the issues and thus prevent the long-term problems that are often a result of individuals feeling marginalized and locked out from society. Arguably therefore, the need to celebrate diversity, build an inclusive community for all and champion refugee and migrant youth is ever-increasing as it provides the fundamental opportunity to smash existing stereotypes portrayed in the media.