Deportation of NZ missionary ‘will not be taken lightly’, says archbishop

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Deported New Zealand missionary talks to Pacific Media Watch in an exclusive interview about his ousting from Papua New Guinea over alleged visa violations.

By Kendall Hutt in Auckland

The deportation of a New Zealand missionary from Papua New Guinea last month has prompted calls for a new government.

With elections firmly underway in Papua New Guinea, Rabaul Archbishop Francesco Panfilo says the deportation of New Zealand missionary Douglas Tennent remains an issue, whatever government is in power.

“I want to inform all [sitting] candidates and aspiring candidates for national elections that neither the Archdiocese of Rabaul nor the Catholic Bishops’ Conference will take this matter lightly as it seems to imply that to work for justice is outside of a ‘religious worker’ status.”

His call comes after Tennent, who has been working as an administrator for the Archdiocese of Rabaul since June 2014, was deported on June 12, 2017, over an alleged breach of visa conditions.

Authorities claim Tennent was deported due to “blatant abuse” of his special exemption/religious worker visa after engaging in “sensitive landowner issues in East New Britain Province”.

-Partners-

However, both Tennent and Archbishop Francesco Panfilo hold firm to the belief Tennent is “just doing his job”.

Tennent was deported after some landowners lodged a complaint regarding his involvement in “sensitive landowner issues”.

Palm oil involvement
It is believed the complaint comes due to Tennent’s involvement in remedying a special agricultural business lease regarding Malaysian multinational Rimbunan Hijau’s Sigite Mukus oil palm project in West Pomio.

Archbishop Panfilo states Tennent is only involved in settling these disputes on his behalf.

“Mr Tennent was providing legal advice to the archbishop, who was asked by the people of West Pomio to speak up for them.”

The actions of immigration authorities – Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato and acting Chief Migration Officer Solomon Kantha – have also raised questions about the innocence of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government in the matter.

“Any ordinary person knows that orders of this kind cannot be given unless there are powerful and wealthy institutions and personalities behind.

“For the sake of the ordinary and innocent people of Papua New Guinea, we ask the Government to come clear once and for all,” says Archbishop Panfilo.

“Let us pray that the upcoming National Elections may give us leaders who are committed to the achievement of a just and peaceful society,” he says.

Religious workers role
Tennent told NZ Catholic in their latest edition last Sunday his deportation had pitted Papua New Guinea’s government against the Catholic Church.

Tennent “deported unjustly” … in this week’s issue of NZ Catholic. Image: PMC

“I think they didn’t realise when they did the deportation that it wasn’t about me. It was about the whole role of religious workers,” he said.

This is echoed by Archbishop Panfilo:

“To advocate for the vulnerable and powerless, which is the situation of the people of West Pomio, is a gospel mandate, just as it is to educate and care for sick people.

“It is the duty of any religious worker and of any Christian for that matter, to give effect to the teachings of Christ in word and action. One wonders why those who expose these evil practices should be deported and not the ones who commit them”, Archbishop Panfilo said.

Tennent remains in New Zealand, anxiously awaiting news from authorities in Papua New Guinea about whether he can return.

He is currently in the process of re-applying for a new visa and is planning court action against the government.

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