USP boss enroute to Nauru, says deportation was a surreal experience

University Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandra Price are overnighting in a hotel in Brisbane, Australia this evening, and will be travelling onto Nauru early tomorrow.

Professor Ahluwalia says he is in good spirits, and hopes to arrive in Nauru in time for the USP Council meeting which is scheduled for tomorrow.

It was a meeting that was postponed last Friday due to water cuts at the USP Fiji campus and the approaching TC Ana.

‘It was a surreal experience’ was all Professor Ahluwalia could say about the midnight raid on his Fiji campus residence last night by 15 men and women. They broke down the residence’s front door to arrest the couple, confiscated their phones and tablets, and bundled them into a car for the three hour long drive to Nadi Airport.

Professor Ahluwalia and his wife were put on a 10am flight to Brisbane this morning.

The High Commission of Australia in Suva has refused to respond to questions about the arrangements that saw the deportation occur today.

“My wife was particularly courageous all throughout the ordeal and she was the one who smuggled in a phone to call you.”

Ahluwalia is referring to the phone call to Islands Business around 8am this morning when she whispered that she couldn’t talk, “we’re being deported on the 11am flight.”

“It’s full steam ahead in so far as work is concerned and my wife and I are both very committed to serving the university from our new location,” Ahluwalia says.

Earlier Nauru’s President told Islands Business that, “it is proceeding as planned,” in respect to plans to relocate the office of the VC outside of Fiji.

As news of the deportation broke early today, President Aingmea told the magazine he had just been briefed and would hold a telephone meeting with other Council members.

At last week’s aborted virtual Council meeting, a paper on the possible relocation of the  Vice Chancellor’s office was on the agenda, in addition to the motion to dismiss two of Fiji’s reps on the council, Winston Thompson and Mahmood Khan on allegations of insubordination.

The logistics of managing the university from another member country would be challenging. The vast majority of USP’s students are in Fiji, and the Fiji government is its largest financial contributor, although the government has withheld at least part of last year’s grant due to the ongoing saga there.

This morning the University management released a statement saying, “Until the Council meets and provides its direction, the Senior Management Team will jointly undertake the Vice-Chancellor’s duties. The Senior Management Team has notified the Council leadership and are waiting for direction. The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students and the continuation of University operations remain our priority.”

The Fiji government released a statement saying Professor Ahluwalia and Price were deported for “continuous breaches of the of Section 13 of the Immigration Act which states “no foreigner is permitted to conduct themselves in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security, or good government of Fiji,” wihtou stating more precisely how that section  had been breached.

And late this afternoon the USP Students Association said students were “heartbroken” by the events of last night.

“The notion of Natural Justice has clearly been disregarded and such treatment of the Chief Academic and Executive Office of the Pacific’s Premier Institution is a disgrace for the entire region,” the Association said in a statement.