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PLANNING TO EMIGRATE? DRESS UP

 

From New Zealand, where almost nothing ever happens, comes a tale of bureaucracy run amok. If everyone in this sordid tale behaved in the same way as the public servants in question, admission to the country would be based on one's fashion sense.

Asad Osman Hassan Abdullahi is a highly qualified Somali microbiologist who had all his papers in order for emigrating from Yemen to New Zealand to take up a new post.

His one mistake, it appears, was to show up in a sky-blue suit and yellow socks, which immigration officials decided that no genuine scientist would be caught dead wearing. (Have they been inside an Internet company lately?)

The case dates back to 1995 but only recently came to light after the New Zealand Herald won a legal challenge to review the documents.

Mr Abdullahi had sued the Immigration Minister and the Attorney General and won a confidential out-of-court settlement along with an official apology.

"Is it illegal to wear a blue suit with yellow socks?" he asked rhetorically after being contacted by the newspaper. The affair began on Aug 16, 1995, when Mr Abdullahi arrived at Changi Airport in Singapore, bound from Yemen to Auckland.

His Somali passport contained a New Zealand residence visa issued in New Delhi, as Mr Abdullahi had met all the criteria under the immigration service's points system.

But after several unsuccessful attempts to collect his boarding pass from Air New Zealand staff, he was told he could not board his flight.

Staff wanted to check his visa with the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore, which was closed.

To his horror, when his passport was returned it had been defaced by a handwritten entry stating: "The bearer of this passport cannot use this passport for entry or travel to Australia under any circumstances.

Not valid for Australia." The note had been entered by an Australian functionary attached to Qantas, to whom queries were referred when the New Zealand High Commission office was closed.

He also sent a memo sent to the High Commission saying: "On talking for some time with the passenger it was observed that his whole demeanour did not fit somebody with tertiary qualifications.

"His suit, sky-blue, was ill-fitting, with [the] brand label still stitched to the outside of the suit sleeve, and he had on yellow socks.

The following day when he was re-interviewed he had removed his tie and appeared to be unable to do it back up." The New Zealand High Commissioner, perhaps in a spirit of Antipodean sartorial solidarity, bought the story.

He wrote Mr Abdullahi a letter stating that his passport and visa were no longer valid, and the residence visa would be cancelled. It got worse - the scientist was placed in custody for two days and told he would be deported to Yemen.

Mr Abdullahi believed he would then be sent back to Somalia, which was torn apart by civil war.

"That was a death sentence for me. I could have easily been killed." He returned to Yemen and managed to reapply for New Zealand residency. Sixteen months later, he arrived in New Zealand with his wife and two children.

"This is a beautiful country with beautiful people," he said. "But those people who are representing New Zealand outside should be clever, broad-minded, well-educated, who do not generalise anything."

 

 


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