A freeze on the settlement of refugees from Africa – including those from Sudan’s Darfur region – has been announced by the Australian government.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the refugees had trouble integrating, and other parts of the world such as Iraq and Burma were greater priorities.
The freeze will last until mid-2008, and there are no guarantees that Africans will be admitted after then.
Critics say it is a pre-election pitch to immigration-wary voters.
Mr Andrews said refugees from Sudan and conflict-torn Darfur were having problems integrating into Australian communities, and that trouble spots closer to home should take priority.
To that end, Africans are being replaced in the humanitarian refugee programme by people fleeing Iraq and Burma.
Australia has accepted or is processing about 3,900 Africans this year – 30% of its total refugee intake.
Just two years ago they made up 70% of the total.
Critics have accused the government of a pre-election move to appeal to xenophobic voters, and they have also said it is absolutely wrong to argue that Africans are failing to integrate.
One community leader said they were making an immense contribution to the economy by taking jobs which many Australians simply did not want to do.
Certainly, there is a nativistic streak in parts of the Australian electorate.
In previous campaigns the Prime Minister John Howard government has benefited from concerns over immigration – especially in regional seats.
Only last year the town of Tamworth in New South Wales voted against hosting a trial refugee resettlement programme after the Sudanese were branded as criminals by the local mayor.
So fierce was the condemnation that the council was forced to reverse that decision.