HONG KONG — A top Australian official said this week that white farmers from South Africa should be granted emergency visas, saying they needed protection in a “civilized country” amid a debate over redistribution of their lands to black citizens.
On Thursday, South Africa’s Foreign Ministry fired back, characterizing the remarks made by Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, as regrettable. White farmers are not at risk, the ministry said.
“There is no reason for any government anywhere in the world to suspect that any South African is in danger from their own democratically elected government,” Ndivhuwo Mabaya, a spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement. “That threat simply does not exist.”
South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, has proposed a constitutional amendment to expropriate land without paying the landowners. The majority of South African farmland remains under white ownership more than 25 years after apartheid ended.
Mr. Dutton, who oversees immigration in Australia, said in an interview on Wednesday that the white farmers “deserve special protection.” He proposed offering the farmers expedited visas to resettle in Australia on humanitarian grounds.
“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare,” Mr. Dutton said. He also cited news reports that white farmers in South Africa were in danger for their lives.
The comments from Mr. Dutton, a member of the center-right governing Liberal Party, also raised eyebrows in Australia, where immigration is a hot-button issue and Liberal Party politicians have been accused of using race as a political tool.
Thousands of predominantly Muslim migrants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia have languished in offshore detention facilities for years under a policy that denied asylum seekers traveling by boat entrance to Australia. Last year, Australia agreed to pay $53 million in damages to migrants who said they had suffered abuse in the camps.
Mr. Dutton has been a staunch defender of the offshore detention policy, and he has argued that Australia should not accept refugees who would be a burden on the country’s social safety net.
In January, Mr. Dutton also blamed African migrants for a rise in crime in Melbourne, claiming in an interview that residents of the city were afraid even to go to restaurants at night “because they’re followed home by these gangs.”
Critics of the government said that those remarks were intended to scare voters before an election and that official crime data showed no such correlation with immigration.
According to government statistics, more immigrants to Australia are born in South Africa than in any other African country. As of 2016, 181,400 Australian residents were South African natives, according to the latest census. The government does not break down that figure by race, but white South Africans have been moving to Australia in large numbers for decades.
The question of redistributing white-owned farmland to blacks in South Africa became an issue again in February when Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president.