EDITORIAL : The Bigger Picture: How We Can Better Deal With Refugees Seeking Asylum Here
The deportation of Iranian refugee, Loghman Sawari back to Papua New Guinea presents many lessons for Fiji.
First, was his unknown entry into Fiji using a fake Papua New Guinea passport.
Instead of immediately presenting himself to Immigration officials as a refugee seeking asylum here, the news of his arrival in Nadi was first reported in the Australian media.
For 10 days, no application for asylum was made by either Mr Sawari or his lawyer, Aman Ravindra-Singh.
Instead, Mr Sawari was active on social media posting up photos of himself at various locations around Nadi.
The public debate over Mr Sawari reflects the divergent views on this issue.
Yesterday we heard from Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Ashwin Raj, director for Human Rights Anti-Discrimination Commission and Mr Ravindra-Singh.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said: “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has advised Fiji that Sawari is 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.”
Mr Raj said: “The deportation of Mr Sawari raises fundamental questions about Fiji’s capacity to balance the imperatives of national security with its international human rights obligations.
“From the perspective of international human rights law, Mr Sawari’s deportation is contrary to international human rights law and in particular Article 31, Article 32 and Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which Fiji succeeded to in 1972.”
Mr Ravindra-Singh complained about how his client was treated.
Though we may be far removed from the refugee crisis in Europe, we need to be prepared and be ready for incidents like this.
Fiji, like other countries in the region, faces similar challenges in terms of security, border control and migration.
In fact, reports have noted that most Pacific island states have not developed the capacity, expertise or experience to address refugee issues on their own.
A submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report in 2009 remains relevant today.
It said that despite establishing a legal framework to assess refugee claims, Fiji needs to strengthen its capacity to undertake refugee status determination effectively and in a timely manner.
The Government was encouraged to do the following:
(i) develop a cadre of trained officials capable of assessing individual cases pursuant to Fiji’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention;
(ii) allocate adequate resources to allow officials to carry out their work expeditiously;
(iii) put in place clear protocols/instructions for border officials and law enforcement officials;
(iv) ensure expeditious processing of claims for international protection in close cooperation with United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organisation for Migration and other stakeholders; and
(v) provide recognised refugees with work rights and other entitlements in a non-discriminatory way.
It was also suggested that the Department of Immigration would benefit from further capacity-building and training in principles of international refugee and human rights law, interview techniques, and assessment drafting.
For now, sending Mr Sawari back to PNG appears to be the best option given the circumstances.