Australian priest avoids deportation from Fiji | Pacific Beat

Australian priest avoids deportation from Fiji

Australian priest avoids deportation from Fiji

Updated 28 January 2013, 17:50 AEDT

An Australian priest living in Fiji has been given a reprieve from deportation from the island nation.

On Friday Father Kevin Barr, the head of Fiji's "People's Community Network" was informed on Friday that he had two days to leave the country, for having breached the terms of his work order.

But a day later he was informed that the order had been changed and that he would not be forced to leave.

The reason for the attempted deportation, and also the reprieve have not been made public, with the interim government just saying that Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has received representations.

Pacific Correspondent has been looking at the weekend's events.

Presenter:Campbell Cooney

Speaker:Father Kevin Barr

COONEY: Australian Catholic priest Father Kevin Barr has spent over 30 years in Fiji, assisting the country's poorest, through his "People's Community Network".

Keywords:Father Barr, Catholic priest, Bainimarama, Fiji, politics, expel priest from Fiji

But last Friday he was contacted and told that immigration authorities were on their way to his home and he was about to be deported, leading him to take refuge in the Australian High Commission.

Later that evening the interim government released a statement saying:

"The Minister for Immigration Joketani Cokanasiga has declared Father Kevin Barr as a Prohibited Immigrant due to a breach in his work permit.

The Department has issued a formal notice to Father Barr who has until Sunday the 27th of January to leave the country. "

COONEY: Earlier in the week Father Barr had confirmed he'd been involved in an unsettling confrontation with Fiji's military leader and interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

It came after he had written a letter to a local newspaper saying, as a joke, that following the Commodore's pledge to change the flag - the Union Jack could be replaced with a small version of the Chinese flag, "to show that our old allegiance to Britain is being replaced with a new allegiance to China".

Father Barr has also confirmed that he was then rung by Commodore Bainimarama, who told him the letter was irresponsible, coming from a community leader.

He then swore repeatedly at the Catholic Priest, accused him of being anti-government, told him to go back where he came from.

The abuse didn't stop there.

Soon after the Commodore sent Father Barr a text message:

"I think you owe the people of Fiji an apology for your childish comments. You give all Catholic priests a bad name."

COONEY: In response Father apologised if the letter had upset the Prime Minister, and denied the accusation he was anti-government.

That generated this texted response:

"Stay well away from me."

COONEY: Followed soon after by:

"Start saying your goodbyes Father Kevin James Barr, Australian national, work permit as a missionary, expiry date for permit 31/12/2013."

COONEY: And then

"Go and be a missionary in China."

COONEY: Father Barr's told local reporters he is in no doubt Friday's attempted deportation was driven by these events.

BARR: It's very surprising that the comment in the letter to the newspaper which had an element of humour in it seemed to have touched a raw nerve to such an extent. I was rather surprised at that, but I think it's all been driven by there. I suppose that happens in life, people misunderstand things, I think even when I gave a talk at the conference on social justice, and I think that was reported as though I was involved in forming a new party, which I wasn't. I just gave a talk at the conference, so there can be misunderstanding, different interpretations of facts.

COONEY: But by Saturday there'd been a change of position.

In the morning the interim government released this statement:

1. After representations were made to the Prime Minister's office, which were then followed by a discussion between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration, the Minister for Immigration has withdrawn the declaration of Father Kevin Barr as a prohibited immigrant under section13(2)(g) of the Immigration Act 2003.

2. Consequently, the removal order issued against Father Kevin Barr by the Permanent Secretary of Immigration has also been withdrawn.

3. Father Kevin Barr's is eligible to continue staying in Fiji under the conditions of his existing work permit.

COONEY: That gives Father Barr nearly a year before he finds out if he will be allowed to stay.

BARR: Oh very happy and sure I mean Fiji is my home as far as I'm concerned. I'm still an Australian citizen because I need my Australian pension to live, but Fiji is my home. And all my friends and so on are here, and my concerns have been with the poorer section of the community, the workers and so on. And I've made lots of friends in all walks of life. So I guess I would have been very sad and lonely without them.

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