Race commissioner warns of community backlash

By Staff Writer

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, has today added his voice to calls for calm amidst claims of a racial backlash against the Somali community in the wake of the recent terrorism-related arrests.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent work with communities from Somalia and other parts of Africa shows that many are currently already experiencing difficulties in everyday activities, as well as finding employment, housing and education,” Innes said.

“These hardships, which are commonly experienced by migrants and refugees upon entering a new country, will be made worse if a racist backlash against them is able to gain momentum.”

Innes said that the Commission’s ongoing work with Muslim communities has shown that the task of combating racism is made even more challenging when set against the backdrop of national security concerns.

A mix of fear and prejudice can lead to racial violence being directed against innocent people, he said.

“In these situations, more than ever, we need to provide a strong and sustainable social framework within which to fight racism, xenophobia and discrimination, as well as to promote social inclusion and community relationships,” Innes said.
“The Commission’s own research, as well as international reports, show that modest investments in human rights–based approaches to social inclusion are both inexpensive and highly effective, building resilience and belonging within communities,” Innes said.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, today spoke to leaders from the Somali community in Melbourne to discuss concerns arising from the arrests.

"The arrests have shocked the Somali community in Melbourne and its leaders have overwhelmingly denounced any form of terrorist activity," Evans said.

"The Somali community contributes much to Australian society and its leaders today spoke of their commitment to Australia."

Senator Evans said he did not want to see Australia’s culturally diverse community negatively affected by the alleged actions of a small group of individuals.

"I join with leaders of the Somali and broader Muslim Australian communities who have called for tolerance and understanding at this time," he said.

Evans said his department will continue to work with Somali leaders to recognise the contributions of the Somali community in Australia and to promote respect and understanding in the broader community.

"People of Somali background have settled successfully in Australia under our humanitarian program since the 1990s," he said.

"The vast majority of Somali Australians are law-abiding citizens who reject extremism and intolerance and who live peacefully and strive to achieve the same goals as other Australians."

A special public consultation will be held with Commissioner Innes and the Chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke, on 17 August.

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