Zeb Holmes

Melbourne’s immigrant crime wave: Fact or fiction?

Image: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Approx Reading Time-11On the back of the terrorism-related arrests and other recent headlines, Melbourne is seemingly beset by an immigrant crime wave. It’s time we separate the fiction from the facts.


Recent crime statistics fly in the face of sensationalist mainstream media coverage that immigrants are largely responsible for a rise in crime in Victoria. The statistics, in particularly focusing on youth crime suggest that it is overwhelmingly committed by those born in Australia. The figures have led to criticism about the profiling of immigrants by police.


Racial profiling

Deng Maleek, a university-educated youth worker, says children of Sudanese background are regularly being arbitrarily stopped and accused of being involved in criminal conduct; specifically, of being members of the “Apex gang”.

“Young adults, not kids, who were engaged in education or working part time and congregate in public spaces and just to socialise, will be randomly checked if they are gang members,” Mr Maleek said.

Victorian police deny that any such profiling exists. “We do not believe there is a problem with racial profiling within our organisation. Operationally, our police respond to a person’s behaviour, not the colour of their skin,” a police statement asserted.


History of profiling

Past events raise questions about police denials. In 2013, a lawsuit against Victoria Police based upon racial profiling of Sudanese immigrants resulted in a $3 million out of court settlement.

In response, the Victoria Police Manual was changed last November to prohibit “policing decisions that are not based on objective or reasonable justification, but on stereotypical assumptions about race, colour, language, ethnicity, ancestry or religion”.

Southern Metro Assistant Police Commissioner Bob Hill says the Apex gang has grown to over 150 members after merging with the YCW gang. Only a small minority of the gang are Sudanese, with the biggest group being Caucasian.


Apex membership

The Apex gang has been linked to Victoria’s spike in carjackings, violent home invasions and armed robberies.

Media reports to the effect that Sudanese members “control the streets” has placed pressure on Victorian premier Daniel Andrews to keep migrants in check.

A recent example of such reporting was a piece by Prue MacSween, who accused Sudanese immigrants with “no skills” of “running riot” in Melbourne, adding “We have to look at who we are bringing into this country.”

Southern Metro Assistant Police Commissioner Bob Hill says the Apex gang has grown to over 150 members after merging with the YCW gang, made up primarily of people from Caucasian, Pacific Islander, Maori, Afghan and Indian backgrounds.

Only a small minority of the gang are Sudanese, with the biggest group being Caucasian.


Socio-economic factors

Blaming a particular group for crime does little more than stigmatise and alienate them from society – when government funding and policies would be better directed at addressing the underlying causes of offending, including socio-economic disadvantage.

Sudanese arrivals have the highest unemployment rate of any migrant group, at 25 percent.

In 2011, their average personal income was below $300 a week, as opposed to $577 for all Australians.

Difficulties in obtaining employment are compounded by racial stereotyping.

Anthony Kelly from the Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre says the incorrect assumption that the Apex gang is full of Sudanese youth has fueled anti-immigration rhetoric, and led to over-policing and profiling of the Sudanese community.


Crime rates

Offences committed by groups such as the Sudanese are dwarfed by crimes committed by young people born in Australia.

In 2016, Australian-born youth committed more than ten times as many home invasions and aggravated robberies in Victoria as Sudanese youth, and in 2015, more than twenty times the number of car thefts.

And while there has been an overall rise in youth crime in Victoria, the government would do well to address socio-economic factors – regardless of ethnicity – rather than formulating policy from mainstream media reporting.


Racist rhetoric

Anthony Kelly from the Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre says the incorrect assumption that the Apex gang is full of Sudanese youth has fueled anti-immigration rhetoric, and led to over-policing and profiling of the Sudanese community.

“We are seeing a whole series of exclusionary impacts from the racialised media coverage,” he said, adding that despite the multi-ethnic composition of the gang, the word “Apex” was becoming a dog whistle for commentators looking to curb immigration.

And it’s not just the media and government attempting to capitalise on anti-immigrant sentiment. State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy recently said, “If they are not an Australian citizen, then, frankly, I think they worn out their welcome out and should be deported.”

Mr Maleek points out that it is not just first generation immigrants who are affected by anti-immigration rhetoric, but also those who have been in Australia for several generations. He believes it is counter-productive to stereotype racial groups. “They don’t feel a sense of citizenship anymore and they don’t feel like they belong to this country,” he said, adding that the situation can lead to discrimination in a range of areas and social disunity.




Jewish House Crisis Centre and The Big Smoke are asking the community in Sydney’s CBD to let us know when you see anyone who may appear to be homeless or in need of assistance.

We will also be providing packs this Christmas Eve to Sydney’s homeless which will include an inflatable bed.

By helping us know this information, you are making a gesture to Sydney’s homeless that you see them and you care about them.


Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a journalist and paralegal working on claims for institutional abuse. He has a passion for social justice and criminal law reform, and is a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

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  1. DrJedi001 said:

    A thoughtful person would have considered the crime *rates* for each ethnic group. You, of course, are not a thoughtful person.

  2. David said:

    Here in the future, 4 1/2 months after you wrote this story, here’s the real OFFICIAL statistics, even from the left-leaning The Age no less:

    Car thefts by Sudanese-born offenders rose significantly from 2015 to 2016, from 89 to 155.

    Despite being just 0.1% of the Victorian population (there are only 6,000 Sudanese-born people living in Victoria, population 5.8 million,) Sudanese-born offenders committed nearly FIVE per cent of the aggravated burglaries in the state.

  3. Chino Gambino said:

    Your source contradicts your own article. No one expects the majority of crime to be done by a tiny number of a foreigners, we should expect the majority of crime to be committed by the majority. What can be felt is when the rate of crime changes, even by a few percentage points because its something new and unexpected thus more talked about. From the ABC.

    “Last year, offences committed by youths born in Sudan jumped significantly and were second highest.

    Proportionally, Sudanese-born youths are vastly over-represented in the statistics, responsible for 7.44 per cent of alleged home invasions, 5.65 per cent of car thefts and 13.9 per cent of aggravated robberies.

    The latest census data shows people born in Sudan or South Sudan made up 0.11 per cent of Victoria’s population in 2011.”

    The youth of just 0.11 per cent of one imported population is responsible for 14% of aggravated robberies committed by a minor. That means of 1 in 7 people robbed by young people, at knife point, with a weapon or at the hands of a gang saw Sudanese males as their attacker. That is astounding. Life long criminals start early, that kind of statistics doesn’t bode well for their future as Australians but it will be all our fault of course.

    What makes this worse is the statistics from the article do not track the race or ethnicity of criminals, they simply divide by national/place of birth. People who are Australian born should not assumed to be Australian, not just over their arguable cultural or ethnic identity but in technicality, Australia abolished absolute Jus Soli in 1986, this is why we can in fact deport many ‘Australian’ Sudanese and Somalians convicted of crimes since their parents were not naturalized or permanent residents at their time of birth. Chances are the disproportionate rates of migrant group crime are far worse tracking 1st and 2nd generation migrants, its true in Europe and I have no doubt it true here.

    Coming from a migrant background myself I don’t buy this racism and profiling create criminality excuse, over-representation in crime stats is the problem. Sorry to say but stereotypes have some truth to them, its a plain exercise in risk assessment to avoid groups of young black men.

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