Back door to immigration

March 10, 2000

Pacific island nations have become stepping stones in an illegal immigration racket that stretches from Fujian province in southern China to the United States territory of Guam.

For $20,000, those desperate enough to risk their lives in an old fishing boat can be smuggled to Guam, where they can apply for asylum in the US.

Australia is the other favoured destination. Students at Central Queensland University's campus in Fiji are allowed to study at one of its eight Australian campuses after successfully completing the first year of a degree course. More than two-thirds of students at the Suva campus are from China, Korea, Japan and India.

A regional news agency reported unsourced concerns that the campus might be used as a back door for Asian students wanting to get into Australia.

Few risk trying to enter the US or Australia direct. There have been too many stories of would-be immigrants dying in unventilated containers before they arrive in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and the deserts of Western Australia and jungles of North Queensland do not offer hospitable landfalls.

The wealthy are able to buy a passport and new citizenship from island governments desperate for hard cash or corrupt officials wanting to line their pockets.

Some find legitimate routes into Australia by exploiting their status as students at the various branch campuses opened by Australian universities in Asia and the Pacific in the past decade.

Central Queensland University's website for its Fiji campus declares: "There are no problems in securing a visa for students from your country." It does not say to which country it refers.

However, CQU's Fiji campus director, Geoff Old, said one of the reasons for setting up the campus in Fiji was to help Chinese students get easy transfer to Australian universities. Mr Old said Fiji was relaxed and "immigration friendly" with China, which allowed for more Chinese students to study in the country.

But claims about the Fiji government's relaxed attitude towards Chinese immigration are at odds with Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry's publicly stated concern about illegal migrant and Asian workers, usually in the garment industry or on farms, who overstay their work permits.

Late last year, the Royal Fiji Constabulary formed a special Asian unit to catch and deport illegal aliens.

Fiji's Chinese community said it was being unfairly victimised, but Mr Chaudhry said the campaign was not aimed just at Chinese nationals.

Behind concerns about the role of the CQU campus and the crackdown on illegal migrants is a very real worry about the use of Fiji and other island nations as a gateway for the lucrative immigration trade.

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