Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Australian town backflips on Sudanese refugee ban

RESETTLEMENT Amid accusations of racism, the city council of Tamworth decided to welcome five refugee families who had been rejected last month

AFP , SYDNEY

An Australian country town has reversed its refusal to resettle five Sudanese refugee families after being accused of racism and fearing the Africans because they are "tall and black."

The city council of Tamworth in northern New South Wales state decided at a special meeting on Tuesday night to accept the families under the government's Humanitarian Refugee Resettlement Program.

The nine councilors voted eight to one to welcome the refugees after voting six to three against them just last month, with mayor James Treloar saying at the time he was concerned about crime and disease.

Tamworth already has a population of 25 Sudanese who arrived about a year ago to look for work, and two councilors who pressed for the new vote said ignorance led to the initial rejection of the five refugee families.

"It's fear that's behind this," councilor Warren Woodly told the Australian newspaper.

The Sudanese people were "striking to look at, very tall, very black, and the first time you see them you do go, boing!" he said. "But it's a credit to the human race, they are so striking."

Councilor and publican Robert Schofield agreed, saying: "People are frightened of them because they are tall and black.

"I tell them, I've got a mate in Noosa, a dark guy, real tall, one of those Masai, and just lovely. And I tell them, this is the best country in the world and we ought to be sharing it," he said.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone welcomed the council's decision.

"Australia does have a big heart and you find a good portion of that in rural Australia," she said.

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