16 Feb 2009

Iranian overstayer allowed to stay

7:48 pm on 16 February 2009

An Iranian overstayer who went on a hunger strike to highlight his quest for refugee status has been allowed to stay in New Zealand.

Ali Panah had argued that his life would be at risk if he returned to Iran because he has converted to Christianity.

He was granted refugee status on Monday after his third appeal. He spent a total of 20 months in prison, having arrived in New Zealand in May 2002.

His 53-day hunger strike while in Mount Eden prison in 2007 generated widespread publicity, which his lawyer Grant Illingworth says is the reason he has been allowed to stay in New Zealand.

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority found that publicity put him at greater risk if he were to be returned to Iran.

Mr Panah says he is very happy at the decision and is looking forward to his new life in New Zealand.