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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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