Sikh professor deported in 2021 returns to Fiji

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Suva, Feb 13

A Sikh professor, who was deported from Fiji in 2021 by the then government over his efforts to expose financial mismanagement in a top university, returned after two years to a warm welcome.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Vice-Chancellor and president of the University of South Pacific (USP), and his wife were received at the Nadi International Airport by students and staff from the university.

"We have arrived in Nadi. What a fabulous reception. USP Staff, Students and so many well wishers to meet us fills our hearts with joy. Beautiful singing and prayers. Thank you Fiji," Ahluwalia tweeted upon his arrival.

"We want to thank God and the new Fiji government for allowing this. To our USP students and staff we are so humbled by your support and very much look forward to seeing you," he wrote.

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka revoked the prohibition order on Ahluwalia in December 2022 to ensure the exiled professor and his wife's return to Fiji.

"I will apologise on behalf of the people of Fiji for the way they were treated," Rabuka had said, adding that the prohibition order against Ahluwalia was "unreasonable and inhumane".

Ahluwalia has been working out of the USP's Samoa Campus in Alafua since December 2021.

The Kenya-born professor, who holds Australian and Canadian citizenships, had angered the then Fijian government over a leaked internal report, which he wrote in 2019.

The report alleged widespread financial mismanagement within the university, abuse of entitlements, unearned promotions and millions of dollars improperly spent under former administrations seen as closely allied, politically, to the Frank Bainimarama government, The Guardian reported.

Up to 15 immigration, police and military officials entered Ahluwalia's home in Suva on the night of February 3, 2021, revoked his work permit and forced on a flight under military guard to Australia.

Calling him a "prohibited immigrant", a government statement said that Ahluwalia had breached Section 13 of the Immigration Act and had "conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security, or good government of Fiji."

The government also claimed unspecified "repeated breaches" of the immigration act and visa conditions.

Ahluwalia denied all allegations of misconduct and said he has been "the victim of a witch-hunt".

The move to send Ahluwalia in exile had provoked widespread outrage and condemnation from staff, students, opposition politicians and human rights groups.

The USP will be holding a thanksgiving ceremony on February 14 to officially welcome the return of Ahluwalia and his wife.

The University of South Pacific, which is jointly owned by 12 countries, is seen as an example of Pacific cooperation at work.

--IANS

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