Young New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders in Australia are turning to crime as they become trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair, their only ways out blocked by exclusion from higher education, government-sponsored apprenticeships and social safety nets.

Rising crime rates, involvement in gangs and high rates of drug and alcohol abuse have been reported in the nation's cities, with police task forces formed to tackle a growing problem.

Many of their homes have been shattered by families torn apart by a transcontinental hunt for work, and by domestic violence whose victims can neither gain government help nor return home with their children.

Families who arrived in Australia after February 2001 are blocked from most financial and social support services by the conditions of their "non-protected" Special Category Visas. Their children grow up in a world where they are thrown entirely on to their own resources, overwhelmingly unable to gain the education and skills that would allow them to apply for permanent residency.


The low-skilled jobs that were once available are now scarce, and youth unemployment is high, especially in areas such as Queensland's Gold Coast and the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.

Although youth workers say the extent of their involvement in gangs has been exaggerated in media reports, they do exist. Islander gangs have been reported in western Sydney, and a special task force has been established by the Victoria Police to investigate gangs in Melbourne.

Prominent Melbourne youth worker Les Twentyman has urged a summit between Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island officials to consider the problem.

The Pacific Islander Reference Group has also warned of the family environments created by poverty.

It said New Zealanders living in violent relationships could not obtain help from government programmes to leave their abusers and under the Hague Convention they could not escape back to New Zealand with their children.

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