Fiji shelters 40

Director Immigration Amelia Komaisavai. Picture: FILE

An asylum seeker is an individual who has left their home country and seeks protection in another country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on factors such as their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

These individuals are seeking refugee status and are typically in need of international protection and assistance.

Fiji has been home to more than 40 refugees who sought political asylum from here and resettled in another country, the Department of Immigration has confirmed.

And the bulk of individuals seeking asylum in Fiji are from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan with an average of four to five individuals arriving each year.

The Director of Immigration Amelia Komaisavai made this status known to this newspaper following queries on whether the country has been accepting refugees from other countries in the past couple of years.

In a detailed response, she outlined that following the ratification of the Immigration Act 2003, Fiji has since started allowing refugees into the country after it was well established that there was a ground of well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of protection of that country.

“Since 2005, we have received more than 40 and most have resettled to other countries,” Ms Komaisavai explained.

“The earliest refugee as per the current record arrived in 2018 and the rest arrived afterwards. “These individuals are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria,  Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Iraq.

“The length of their stay in Fiji depends on the resettlement procedure by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or when the situation normalises back home while most refugees resettle in other countries.”

The Director of Immigration stated that part 6 of the Immigration Act 2003 “Determination of Refugee Status” and the Immigration Regulations 2007, establish a clear legal framework to assess claims for asylum and this ascertain the grounds for them to claim asylum in Fiji.

She also explained that the department was not in a position to comment on why these refugees chose Fiji, but stated that Fiji, through the Immigration Department would only, conduct its due diligence as soon as asylum claim was received given that the country ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol.

Ms Komaisavai said the department also would not be able to confirm if the country would be receiving more refugees as the future could not be pre-empted.

Part 6 of the Immigration Act outlined clearly the Determination of Refugees Status and their entry into Fiji. Section 39 ‘Claim for Asylum’ noted that a claim is made as soon as a person signifies his intention to seek to be protected or recognised as a refugee in the Fiji Islands to an immigration officer.

Where a claim is made, the claimant must, in the approved form and accompanied by the prescribed fee, confirm the claim, which must include the grounds for the claim; and a statement explaining whether any other member of the claimants family who is in the Fiji Islands and is also seeking to be recognised as refugees in the Fiji Islands.

The Act also says that the asylum seeker must establish the claim and ensure that all information, evidence, and submissions that the asylum seeker wishes to have considered in support of the claim are provided to the Immigration Department before the Permanent Secretary determines the claim.

For the purpose of determining a claim, the permanent secretary may seek information from any source, except that the officer is not obliged to seek any information, evidence or submissions apart from those provided by the claimant and determine the claim on the basis of the information, evidence and submissions provided by the claimant.

The Act stated that “refugee” means a person who- owing to a wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or not having a nationality and being outside the country of his habitual residence is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to such country.

Subsection 40 indicates that the permanent secretary may determine a claim by an asylum seeker to be recognised as a refugee in the Fiji Islands.

When a subsequent claim is received, the permanent secretary may determine whether, since the most recent claim by the person, circumstances in the claimants home country have changed to such an extent that the subsequent claim is based on significantly different grounds to the previous claim.

In determining claims lodged, the permanent secretary must, when determining a claim, be guided by the provisions of the Refugee Convention.

The permanent secretary may refuse a claim if the claimant is at present receiving from an agency or organ of the United Nations protection or assistance, the claimant has been recognised by the competent authorities of a country in which the claimant has taken residence or held residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to possession of the nationality of that country.

The permanent secretary may also refuse a claim if there are serious reasons for considering that the claimant has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes.

Other notable considerations stated that the claimant could be refused entry if he/ she has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee and if the claimants continued presence in the Fiji Islands is a threat to national security or public safety.

If the claimant is a member of or adheres to any organisation or group of persons that has engaged in, or has claimed responsibility for, an act of terrorism in the Fiji Islands or outside the Fiji Islands and that persons continued presence in the Fiji Islands constitutes a threat to national security or public safety; or having regard to the interests of national security and public safety, permanent secretary has reasonable grounds to suspect that the claimant has committed a terrorist act or is, or is likely to be, involved in the commission of a terrorist act.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees submission for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report Universal Periodic Review stated that the 2003 Immigration Act constitutes the statutory basis for refugee status determination (RSD) in Fiji’s domestic law.

The report stated that the Department of Immigration (DOI) was responsible for managing immigration to Fiji, including the provision of asylum.

“In view of the small number of persons in need of international protection in Fiji and other domestic priorities, issues related to forced displacement are not prominent concerns in Fiji,” the report outlined.

“UNHCR wishes to acknowledge the positive spirit of engagement enjoyed with the DOI and the commitment of the DOI officials to fulfilling Fiji’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“In this regard, Fiji has played a leadership role for other Pacific Island countries in the region, despite the relatively small number of asylum-seekers and refugees in Fiji and competing domestic priorities.

“UNHCR welcomes action taken by Fiji to improve its capacity to undertake refugee status determination (RSD). In particular, the DOI has established an RSD unit comprising of three officers who are responsible for assisting asylum-seekers and refugees and for assessing their individual cases under the 1951 Refugee Convention, in close cooperation with UNHCR.

“The DOI is currently drafting an RSD Policy and RSD standard operating procedures relating to the receipt and registration of asylum-seekers, adjudication of refugee claims and appeal procedures, issuance of appropriate documentation, and timeframes for endorsement by the relevant authorities.

“The Government of Fiji continues to respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement and works closely with UNHCR to fulfil its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

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