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Australia to 'Temporarily' Refuse Refugees from Africa


Australia has announced a temporary freeze on the settlement of refugees from Africa, including those from Sudan's Darfur region. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the refugees had trouble integrating into Australian society, and that refugee requests from other parts of the world, such as Iraq and Burma, are being given higher priority at the moment. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

In recent years Australia has accepted more refugees from Africa than anywhere else - up to 70 percent of the country's total humanitarian intake.

In a major policy shift, however, new acceptances from Africa are being frozen until at least June of next year.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says instead of taking in Africans seeking asylum, the authorities must give more help to those fleeing Iraq and Burma.

Andrews says Sudanese refugees in particular have been having problems adjusting to the Australian way of life.

"We do have a responsibility to the Australian community to ensure that when people come to Australia they're able to adequately settle in this country, and we have detected that there have been additional challenges in relation to some of the people that have come from Africa over the last few years," said Andrews.

Refugee advocates have called the government's decision "unsympathetic" and "hypocritical".

They have voiced fears that come next June, the freeze will simply be extended.

Government critics say the freeze is a pre-election move to win the support of voters worried about rising levels of immigration. The Africans have not always been welcome here.

Last year councilors in the town of Tamworth in New South Wales voted against resettling Sudanese refugees after they were branded as criminals by the local mayor.

Nationwide condemnation of the mayor's comments was so fierce, however, that officials were forced to reverse that decision.

Despite the controversy over immigration policies, tens of thousands of African refugees have made new lives here - arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Liberia and Angola as well as Sudan.

One community leader said they have made a huge contribution to society by taking jobs that many Australians simply refused to do.