A Winnipeg man who works with newcomer youth says it’s important that young people, upon arriving in this country, are given the tools they need to succeed, lest they fall prey to gang life.
Mandela Kuet, founder and executive director of the HOODFAMS organization, which works to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, told 680 CJOB the majority of newcomers have come to this country seeking safety, and aren’t necessarily expecting the type of dangers they might encounter on Winnipeg’s streets.
“They want to be able to achieve their dreams, their goals. The challenge is that when they come here, they’re not all informed about the situation that they can find themselves in… issues such as gangs,” said Kuet.
“These young people may not have the language, the opportunity to be able to deal with the stresses. A lot of them want to take care of themselves and their families and they might not have the opportunity or the experience to do those things in Canada.”
Kuet said while many of them come from war-torn countries and are very familiar with crime and violence, it’s not something they expect in the place they’re seeking refuge.
“They don’t think that exists in Canada. They don’t understand the gravity of the rule of law and how that would impact them as someone whom is new,” he said.
“If they come into contact with the justice system, they’re going to be treated just like anyone else… but the justice system doesn’t understand these young people don’t have the knowledge and understanding of the gang life.
“Gangs, the way they target these young people… they look at their needs. Most of the time it’s giving them money so they can take care of themselves and their families… and before they know it, they can’t get out of that situation. It’s a cycle that they are not aware of.”
Kuet said many young newcomers are recruited into gangs by people who may have the same cultural or ethnic backgrounds, or speak the same language, but don’t have their best interests in mind.
“We created this organization to directly contact youth who might be involved and try to redirect their lives before it’s too late.”
The key, he said, is to provide individualized, tailored support that encourages youth to identify their own life goals, and work with them to help remove any obstacles — whether they relate to employment, housing, language skills or anything else.
It’s also a priority to show them that continuing in a criminal lifestyle could result in jail time, deportation… or worse.
“We don’t judge them. They could be involved in the justice system, they could be involved in the gang culture… but at the same time, we’re being honest with them.”