3 Feb 2017

Deported refugee failed to apply for asylum 'without delay'

8:14 pm on 3 February 2017
Loghman Sawari in Fiji.

Loghman Sawari in Fiji. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Fiji's Attorney General says he deported an asylum seeker back to Papua New Guinea because he failed to apply for asylum without delay.

Loghman Sawari escaped to Fiji 10 days ago from Port Moresby after he was detained on Manus Island by Australia.

In a statement the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said Mr Sawari did not present himself as a refugee seeking asylum to immigration officials on arrival in Fiji.

"Nor, after ten days, did he lodge an application for asylum, personally or through his lawyer," he said

The 21-year-old from Iran had secured the services of the human right's lawyer, Aman Ravindra-Singh, who said he was was escorting his client to meet Fiji Immigration officials in Suva this morning when police took Mr Sawari by force.

"He was feeling very hopeful today. To see the look of anguish and defeat in this young man's face was very heartbreaking. What I saw today was thugs in the form of police officers and immigrations officers at work," said Mr Ravindra-Singh.

Listen to Mr Ravindra-Singh on on Dateline Pacific.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said he was advised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Mr Sawari was not recognised as a refugee under the UNHCR mandate.

"It has further advised that he is a refugee recognised by Papua New Guinea under its national procedures. So Fiji has merely returned Sawari to his rightful place of residence," he said.

"Sawari eluded the authorities during his ten days in Fiji while posting photographs of himself on social media at various locations," said Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.

"Under international law, anyone who is seeking political asylum is required to lodge an application without delay. In the case of Sawari, this did not happen."

The Attorney General said authorities in Fiji were informed by their counterparts in Papua New Guinea that Mr Sawari's PNG passport was obtained by fraudulent means.

Fiji's Finance Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Fiji's Finance Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: Supplied

He said that meant Mr Sawari was also in breach of Fijian law which states that "a person who knowingly misleads or attempts to mislead any immigration officer in relation to any matter material to the performance or exercise by any immigration officer of any duty, function, power or discretion...commits an offence."

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said several attempts by the Immigration Department to engage with Sawari during his stay in Fiji were ignored.

"Fiji remains fully committed to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, but we cannot tolerate a situation in which a person who is not an asylum seeker and who has already been granted refugee status in another country flagrantly violates the law."

Meanwhile, the human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, said Fiji had failed a man who wanted refuge.

Amnesty's Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said Mr Sawari came to Fiji seeking protection and was entitled to a fair assessment of his claim.

She said at a time when the US and Australia were turning their backs on refugees, Fiji had missed a chance to act differently.

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