Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Australian town fears that African refugees would cause social problems

Nick Squires:

With the twang of country music playing on the radio and strapping men in cowboy hats rattling through town in battered pick-up trucks, Tamworth is every inch Australia's answer to Nashville.

Proud of its title as the nation's capital of country music, and famous for the 36ft-high golden guitar which greets visitors on arrival, it was recently voted one of the friendliest towns in Australia.

But its 40,000 inhabitants have given a distinctly unfriendly response to a proposal to accept a small number of African refugees fleeing their war-torn nation.

A majority of the council voted to reject the five Sudanese families, citing a survey of 500 locals which showed that three quarters wanted nothing to do with them.

Councillors said they were concerned that Sudanese men would commit crimes, harass women and could bring with them diseases such as polio and tuberculosis.

"There are big cultural differences - Sudanese men find it hard to take orders from women. Plus we don't have the trauma and torture counselling facilities that these people need," said the mayor, James Treloar.

The vote, which has split the town and attracted accusations of racism, comes at a time when Australia has significantly increased the number of African immigrants it accepts. Last year it accepted 7,100 Africans under its humanitarian programme.

Tamworth allows in Sudanese

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