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22 July 2014

Teens fleeing warzones are fuelling violent crime in London, youth crime summit warned

The risk posed by traumatised asylum seekers was one of many themes identified at Labour's Youth Crime Summit in London today. 

By lucy Fisher

Teenage refugees and asylum seekers fleeing warzones are fuelling violent crime across London, a youth crime summit hosted by Labour was warned today.

Gary Kelly, Detective Superintendent in Southwark, said: “The trauma of youngsters fleeing war-torn countries and coming here – I can’t overestimate the challenges that Syria and Libya will cause us across London.”

He identified youths aged between 13 and 16 as being at risk of adopting violent gang culture and falling into criminal activity. While they tend not to be affiliated with formal gangs – “they are much more chaotic” – Kelly explained “they are responsible for a wide range of violent crime, including robbery and burglary”.

He advised participants, including co-ordinators of gang diversion schemes, NGO workers and councillors, that the key to tackling gangs in the capital is disrupting their drug supply chains, which span as far afield as the south and south west coasts of the UK. “We need cross-border working, good governance and oversight to reduce that threat,” he said.

He added that he was concerned “young females are becoming involved in the supply chain and are at increased risk of sexual exploitation.”

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Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North and shadow Home Office Minister, called for strong partnerships between local councils, police, probation services, but with “the community in the driving seat”. Gang violence and culture is “one of the most difficult problems” facing urban society, he said.

He harked back to his experience as head of Lambeth Council, which devolved control of youth crime services to a youth-steered trust, into which £3m was invested: “It was much more effective.”

Reed said Labour wants to communicate with and reach out to frontline workers tackling youth and gang crime, in order to inform policy proposals that will be included in the party’s manifesto.

He told the assembled participants: “We need to turn politics on its head. Labour understands that. We want to share power if elected.”

The party will host up to five summits around the country over the summer as part of a “new, iterative process” of policy formation, before unveiling proposals for dealing with youth crime in the autumn.

Better job opportunities and training for young people was identified as integral to dissuading young men from dealing drugs and choosing a life of crime.

Eighteen-year-old Temi Mwale, founder of gang culture diversion scheme Get Outta The Gang, demanded more resources and effort be invested in long-term diversion workshop programmes to help angry young men break free from violent mindsets.

She summed up her motivation for establishing her youth group in a single sentence: “One of my childhood friends was shot”, but continued: “Everybody has tragedies. It’s about moving forward.” 

Mwale later explained to Reed that the young people with whom she works feel disaffected by politics and mistrustful of politicians: “There’s this whole resentment. They have this blanket approach: ‘They [politicians] are all against us’.”

London is a tale of two cities, she told the Labour MP, making clear that there is a vast chasm between life for middle-class professionals and and life on an estate. “If you went out and got stabbed, that would be something very out of the ordinary for you. But there are young people going out of the house every day who expect to die.”