NZ asked to help save detainee from deportation to Syria

8:49 am on 2 September 2016

A Melbourne woman is begging the New Zealand government to grant her partner a visa to save him from being deported to Syria where he will have to serve two years in the army.

Christmas Island Detention Centre

Photo: Wikicommons

Ahmed Mahmoud's only options for now are indefinite detention in Australia's immigration camp on Christmas Island, where he has spent the last year, or deportation to Syria - a country he's never lived in.

His fiancé, Danice Frichitthavong, who is an Australian citizen, has written to New Zealand Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse asking for help on compassionate grounds.

"We would love to be able to ask him to be able to, you know, be compassionate towards the situation and see our situation as being one of helplessness," Ms Frichitthavong wrote in the letter.

"I understand what we are asking is sort of outside the normal practice."

Mr Woodhouse had not responded and his office said it was trying to track down the email.

Mahmoud, 25, grew up in Lebanon and arrived in Australia aged 13.

He lost his Australian permanent visa because of his conviction for what the judge called a callous and brutal assault that he committed as a 17-year old.

He served three years in prison, and had been out for seven months when in 2014, his permanent visa was revoked and he was taken into detention on the mainland.

He has since been transferred to a detention centre on Christmas Island.

"This has probably been the hardest part ... getting any sort of support anywhere really," Ms Frichitthavong said.

"Because it can be so easily sold to people that ... why would anybody want someone that's been convicted of any kind of crime anywhere.

"But everyone deserves a second chance."

As for the scores of New Zealanders held on Christmas Island - and Mahmoud estimated there were 150 there now - the only sure way off the island was to sign up to be deported.

Mahmoud held a Syrian passport so would be deported there.

The couple applied for an Australian protection visa but had heard nothing for months about his fate.

The Australian government's position has been that it has no legal obligation to not return him to Syria if he agreed to be deported.

Mahmoud told RNZ from Christmas Island that he spoke to Border Force officials at the detention centre two days ago.

"I said, 'How can you even send me to Syria? I haven't been to Syria in my whole life, I don't even know anything about there'.

"I'm like, 'Why would you even send me to a country that's been banned from all over the world, that no one should be even going there, but you can send me if I sign voluntarily [to be deported]?"

Ms Frichitthavong said her partner was effectively stateless and Australia was not concerned.

"They said that because he's not part of any religious movement or political movement, his life is at no greater threat than the average civilian so they didn't see that they owed him any protection from being sent back there."

Mr Woodhouse's counterpart across the Tasman, Peter Dutton, said on ABC radio just last night that non-citizens with violent criminal histories would not be allowed to live in Australia.

Ms Frichitthavong said the waiting had become too much, especially as she could not visit Mahmoud on the Indian Ocean island.

"Legally ... they could hold him forever if that's what they chose to do, and actually they have told us that even if they grant him protection from being deported back to Syria, that doesn't mean that they have to grant him privileges of being returned to the community."

She wanted to bring her three teenage daughters to New Zealand if Mahmoud was allowed in.

Mahmoud said living in New Zealand would allow him to still see his mother and three younger brothers who live in Melbourne.

"The only reason New Zealand should give ... me a second chance is because I could bring good skills into the country, because I'm qualified as a builder."

The lobby group Iwi n Aus has also written to Mr Woodhouse backing the case.

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