Australian immigration criticised over cricketer's citizenship

03 March 2014


Australia's former immigration ministers Chris Bowen and Brendan O'Connor have been criticised for decisions to grant visas to a Pakistani asylum seeker, Fawad Ahmed, and to change the law so that Mr Ahmed's citizenship could be granted more quickly.

Mr Ahmed entered Australia and claimed asylum in 2010. He said he had been threatened by the Taliban and feared for his life. He was granted Australian citizenship in July 2013 despite the fact that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had advised that his asylum claim did not appear to be justified.

Mr O'Connor introduced legislation in the Australian parliament so that Mr Ahmed's citizenship could be rushed through, allowing him to play for Australia against England in the last two test matches during the Australian tour of England in the summer of 2013. Under the old rules, he would not have qualified until 18th August.

Ahmed played five games for Australia

In fact, Mr Ahmed did not play for Australia until 29th August in any event. He played five games for Australia; three one day internationals and two Twenty20 games and has not since been selected to play for Australia. He has not played for Australia since September 16th 2013.

In the summer of 2013, Australian immigration had already refused Mr Ahmed's asylum request. He had then appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal. This tribunal had also rejected Mr Ahmed's case. The tribunal felt that there was not enough credible evidence that Mr Ahmed was, in fact a refugee.

Mr Ahmed played first class cricket in Pakistan, though he had never played for the national team. He also worked for a non-governmental organisation which educated girls in northern Pakistan.

Asylum

He arrived in Australia in 2010 with a visiting cricket team (not the Pakistani national team) and claimed asylum. He said that he had been threatened while in Pakistan by the Taliban who objected to the education of girls.

He was allowed to remain in Australia while his asylum claim was determined. Once in Australia, he had begun to play cricket and was quickly spotted for his prowess.

In the summer of 2013, the Australian cricket team was playing very badly. It had just been heavily defeated in a tour of India and it was predicted to do very badly in a tour of England that was about to start. Among the many criticisms of the team was the fact that it did not have an international standard spin bowler.

Talented cricketer

Mr Ahmed is a talented cricketer who played first class cricket in Pakistan as a leg spin bowler. Some press coverage at the time suggested that he was the best leg spin bowler to play in Australia since the world's best ever spinner, Shane Warne, had retired.

It is suggested by some newspapers that Cricket Australia applied pressure on Mr Bowen and O'Connor to approve Mr Ahmed's citizenship.

Advisors at the Department of Immigration had advised that Mr Ahmed' asylum claim was 'borderline at best' and advised that he should not be given citizenship but, instead should be awarded a six-month tourist visa. This would, however, not have allowed Mr Ahmed to play cricket.

Permanent resident status

In the event, Mr Ahmed was granted permanent resident status and then citizenship.

Writing on the BackPageLead website, Tom Heenan says that Mr Ahmed's claim may have been adjudged to be borderline by Australian Immigration but says that Ahmed was a target because the NGO he worked for in Pakistan educated young women.

Heenan writes 'Before we become overly dismissive of this insurgency, remember that when the Taliban grabbed hold of the nearby Swat Valley the education of young women was brutally suppressed.

Malala Yousafzai

There were public executions in Swat's major city Mingora and a teenage girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head because she simply wanted to learn'.

He continues 'Given the circumstances of Malala's shooting there is little reason to doubt Fawad's claim that he too was being targeted by the Taliban'.

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