Fiji immigration officials, police deport USP chief Ahluwalia in swoop

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Professor Pal Ahluwalia
USP vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia ... deported on a flight to Brisbane at Nadi today by Fiji authorities. Image: PMW/social media

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

Fiji Immigration officials and police have detained and expelled the University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, and his wife Sandra.

The president of the University of the South Pacific Staff Association, Elizabeth Fong, said that the USPSA had received confirmation that the pair were taken in between 11pm and midnight last night, reports Fijivillage news editor Vijay Narayan.

Photos circulated on social media today showed Professor Ahluwalia being deported on a flight to Brisbane this morning.

Fong said they had also been getting reports from late last month about Ahluwalia’s work permit to be revoked.

A USP Council meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea, who is also chair of the USP Council, said he would make a statement after the council meeting.

The USP staff unions were meeting this morning.

When contacted by Fijivillage, USP said it was unable to comment at this stage.

Professor Ahluwalia, a Canadian, could not be contacted.

Fijivillage said it was also trying to contact USP pro-chancellor Winston Thompson.

The radio station said it had also asked Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, Permanent Secretary for Immigration Yogesh Karan, Education Minister Rosy Akbar and the police. None had yet responded.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia 2
Australian Professor Pal Ahluwalia … deported on a flight to Brisbane today. Image: PMW/social media

Among many messages of dismay and condemnation, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) executive Shamima Ali slammed the Fiji government’s action as “not the Pacific way” and “unacceptable behaviour”.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea, who is also chair of the USP Council, said he would make a statement after the council meeting.

Whisked away from their home
RNZ Pacific reports that Professor Ahluwalia and his wife, Sandra, were awoken and whisked away from their home late last night by plain-clothed Fiji immigration officers who broke into their residence.

The vice-chancellor and his wife were transported to Nadi from where they were deported to Brisbane this morning.

The academic asked for the grounds of his deportation and was told he posed a “public risk”.

A letter signed by Fiji’s Acting Director of Immigration Amelia Komaisavai further explained that the government deemed Professor Ahluwalia to be “a person who is or has been conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security or good government of the Fiji Islands”.

Since taking on the job in 2019, Professor Ahluwalia had been driving efforts to clean up the governance of the Suva-based university.

However, last June the vice-chancellor was suspended by the USP’s executive committee led by Winston Thompson over alleged malpractice.

After weeks of protests by students and staff, and regional concern, Professor Ahluwalia was reinstated when the council ruled due process had not been followed in the suspension.

The council also subsequently cleared Professor Ahluwalia of all the allegations.

The Fiji government later announced it was suspending its grants of more than US$10 million to the university. The university is chiefly funded by Australia and New Zealand.

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