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A Second Look: Refugees As Political Foot Fodder

A Second Look with Kevin List

Refugees As Political Foot Fodder


Thursday, 25 March 2004

As politicians jump on the national security bandwagon and demand any individual not traceable to a Waka or one the first four ships be vetted as a 'security risk', it may be worth regurgitating a singularly unpleasant attack upon a refugee by various politicians in 2001.

A week before September 11, 2001, a debate was called for on the Clark Government's decision to accept up to 150 asylum seekers from the Norwegian freighter The Tampa. During her speech the then leader of the opposition, Jenny Shipley, attacked a previous decision made by the Clark Government to give residence to a former foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Najibullah Lafraie.

Under parliamentary privilege, Shipley attacked Mr Lafraie for having allegedly been part of the mujahideen (who during the 80s, were seen by the West as freedom fighters against their Soviet overlords). Mr Lafraie was also vilified by Shipley for having been part of a Government in Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996 during which a number of violent incidents occurred. The most serious accusation thrown at Dr Lafraie was that in 1995, whilst he was Foreign Minister, the Pakistani embassy was attacked.

Ms Shipley omitted to mention during her speech, that at the time Afghanistan was in the middle of a civil war, and that by 1995 the Pakistani Intelligence Services were actively siding with the ultra-repressive Taliban faction.

In reply to Shipley's accusations Prime Minister Helen Clark defended Dr Lafraie by stating that as Afghanistan Foreign Minister, Dr Lafraie was invited to Parliament House in Australia, and dined with Cabinet Ministers. It was also pointed out by Clark that Dr Lafraie had been adjudged a genuine refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The following day, over the airwaves and from over the ditch in Australia, a leading defence analyst accused Shipley of not checking her facts; stated that the attack was made for shallow political reasons; and felt her unfit to hold public office. Mrs Shipley was not the only National member to be castigated for attacking Dr Lafraie. According to Clark the Opposition senior whip John Carter had been 'prattling' to the news media about Dr Lafraie being a terrorist. This 'prattling' was found by Clark to be despicable.

Aiding Shipley in her attacks on Dr Lafraie was Ken Shirley. By 2001, Shirley, like Prebble a former Labour Cabinet Minister, was now ensconced with the Act party.

However Shirley had not lost all his fraternal feelings for the left wing and like Shipley was now outraged by Mr Lafraie's opposition to the Soviet backed communist regime in 1988. Shirley accused Lafraie of 'vowing to try the communist leaders in Kabul' during the period Lafraie was a political leader within the CIA backed mujahideen.

Seven days after this heated exchange, New York's Twin Towers evaporated in a haze of smoke and dust, and Lafraie's political opponents, the Taliban regime, became public enemy number two behind their friend Osama Bin Laden.

On 911, members of the Afghani Government vilified by Shipley over night became the United States 'allies' in the 'War against Terror'.

The Pakistani Intelligence services were attacked for backing the Taliban, and Dr Lafraie disappeared back into the fabric of New Zealand life.

Also disappearing into the fabric of New Zealand life shortly after, on October 8th 2001, was the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley.

The former member for Rakaia retains an interest in immigration matters though, having gone into the (immigration consultancy) business with Pansy Wong's husband and former Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech. It is hoped no clients of this venture will ever pose a 'security concern' to New Zealanders.

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- Kevin List is a Scoop staff writer. A Second Look is an occasional column which endeavours to look a little deeper into the background of current events.

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