A former Manus Island refugee who had intended to seek asylum in Fiji has been charged with falsifying passport documents after being deported and returned to Papua New Guinea, police say.
Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari was detained by Fijian immigration officials on Friday morning while travelling with his lawyer to meet the country’s immigration director to discuss his asylum claim, which had not yet been lodged.
The 21-year-old refugee was placed on a flight to Papua New Guinea, where he was questioned for several hours by immigration officials at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.
The deportation has been criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Fiji’s own Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, which said the country had breached international human rights law.
— SBS News (@SBSNews) February 3, 2017
Airport Police Station Commander Jerry Yawa told the ABC Sawari was charged with falsifying passport documents under the country’s Passports Act, and was transferred to the cells at Waigani police station in Port Moresby.
Under the legislation, making false or misleading statements in order to obtain an identity document is punishable by an up to K10,000 fine ($4,102), and can include a prison term of up to six months.
Mr Yawa said Sawari had been given the opportunity to contact a local lawyer, and is expected to face court on Monday.
— Filipe Naikaso (@FilipeFijiTV) February 4, 2017
Port Moresby’s Metropolitan Superintendant Ben Turi confirmed the information, and said more details would be made available next week.
Sawari’s Fijian lawyer, Aman Ravindra Singh, said he was concerned for his client.
“I am in complete shock and devastated for Loghman Sawari at what has taken place after his illegal and forceful deportation from Fiji, I’m absolutely shocked,” he said.
“The fault absolutely falls on the Fijian Government.”
UNHCR ‘profoundly concerned’ for Sawari’s welfare
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Fiji’s attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said the decision to deport Sawari was made due to his failure to lodge an asylum application upon arrival in Fiji.
Sawari had been in the country for 10 days before his expulsion.
I'm so sad Fiji lost opportunity to show global leadership on #refugee crisis by deporting young Iranian LoghmanSawari to PNG this morning
— Tara Chetty (@tarachetty) February 3, 2017
Mr Khaiyum said the Government was advised by the UNHCR that Sawari was “not recognised as a refugee under the UNHCR mandate”, and that this was a factor in its decision.
However, the UNHCR said it was “profoundly concerned” for Sawari’s welfare following his deportation, and that it had “sought assurances” from Fijian authorities that he would have access to asylum procedures.
“UNHCR deeply regrets that interventions to prevent Mr Sawari’s forced return were not successful,” it said in a statement.
“UNHCR has long called for refugees and asylum-seekers currently in Papua New Guinea to be moved to humane conditions outside of the country. Equally, UNHCR has urged that no refugees or asylum-seekers should be returned there.”
— Michael Walsh (@mikehwalsh) February 4, 2017
Sawari, who had been living in the city of Lae in Papua New Guinea before travelling to Fiji, was one of the first Manus Island refugees to move onto the country’s mainland for work.
In March last year, the ABC reported that he had left his building apprenticeship in the city and had been taken in by a church after becoming homeless.
Mr Khaiyum said Sawari had “flagrantly [violated] the law” by entering Fiji with false documents, adding the country remains fully committed to international refugee law.