Councilors in Australia's most famous musical city have reversed a controversial decision to reject refugees from Sudan. Authorities in Tamworth, 600 kilometers northwest of Sydney, had earlier said African migrants were troublemakers and could carry diseases. The town council has said it will now help Sudanese families settle in Tamworth, which is preparing to host its famous country music festival. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
The mayor of Tamworth, James Treloar, says the town council now will accept more refugees from Sudan.
Last month he insisted that African migrants could cause trouble in the city and bring with them diseases such as tuberculosis and polio.
The council also argued it did not have the resources to cope with potentially traumatized people who had fled civil unrest in southern Sudan.
So councilors rejected a request from Australia's Immigration Department to resettle five Sudanese families.
The decision caused dismay and anger. It prompted an emergency council debate in Tamworth and public pressure has helped to bring about this U-turn.
Treloar now says the plan can work but only if the federal government and local community are willing help.
"The program needs adjustment, needs modification to suit certain areas. We're hoping that that modification can be made to suit Tamworth and what we're particularly saying is people who have signed petitions, who've put letters forward now need to become volunteers to make the program work," said Treloar.
Australian immigration officials now will head to Tamworth to help the city prepare to welcome five Sudanese families as part of a one-year pilot program.
Many residents were horrified that their prosperous city should be portrayed as so mean-spirited.
Tamworth is the capital of Australia's country music. Its annual music festival starts this week and there were fears that the refugee debate would overshadow this famous event, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
Tamworth is already home to about 25 Sudanese. They arrived a year ago under a separate resettlement program. Most work in slaughterhouses doing jobs that many long-time residents are not willing to do.
The Australian government is resettling more refugees from Sudan than from any other country including Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year more than 3,700 Sudanese arrived out of a total intake of 14,000 refugees.