A positive development in fight against use of false passports

The lead story on the front page of the Sunday Samoan titled “Man alleged to have fled Samoa under false identity sent back” was an excellent development. It was reassuring in as far as issues of immigration and passports go in light of some very disturbing developments during the past few years.

This why we say the story was not only a positive step for the mother who was daring enough to raise the issue after her husband abandoned her, it was more importantly a positive step for the Immigration office after a few cases that have surfaced publically where people have used false passports to get way from Samoa. 

The truth is that we’ve had one too many of those cases during the past few years. A number of them have been reported on the pages of your newspaper.

The recent case of a prominent businessman who skipped the country while a Court case was pending immediately comes to mind. 

But that’s not the only one.

A few years ago a prisoner was able to escape from Tafaigata and made his way to Australia. Go back even further, a Samoan woman got the shock of her life in Auckland when she was sent a fine when she had nothing to do it. It turned out that another relative in Samoa had taken out a passport under her name and had been using it to travel.

We can go on but let’s stop here for now. The point is that there has got to be a way of bringing an end to this. The thing is that if people are questioning and doubting the system, we cannot blame them.

Which is why we say this incident where this particular individual has been caught and brought back is a positive step. At least this story appears to be heading for some closure – unlike the others that remain unresolved.

 The story in question started back in August when a mother of three, Alasa Ropeti, approached the Samoa Observer and demanded.

At the time, a story titled “Man flees Samoa on false passport despite departure ban” was published, detailing the concerns by Mrs. Ropeti.

According to her, her husband fled to Australia in 2017 despite being banned from leaving the country because of allegedly unpaid child support payments.

And how was this possible?

 We were told that he was able to register a passport with his photo but in the name of his half-brother, Ioane Felise.

Contacted for a comment at the time, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which Immigration is under, Agafili Shem Leo, said: "This individual had knowingly faked his identity and managed to leave the country.  [His] application went through the formal passport process but was not picked up by the system when the passport was processed."

The good news at the time was that Agafili said they had located Mr. Sione in Australia and Immigration was working with Australian officials to bring him back. That was two months ago.

Fast forward to Friday last week; Mr. Sione was sent back to Samoa, arriving on the Samoa Airways flight from Sydney. He was escorted by the Police and taken to the Apia Police station where he is being kept.

In the meantime, a statement issued by Agafili attributed the latest development to the “successful partnership arrangements” between the Samoa Immigration Office, the Pacific Immigration Development Community (P.I.D.C.) and Australia’s Border Authorities.”  

Said Agafili: “Close cooperation between Samoa Immigration and its partners in locating Sione in Australia, and in the process of returning him to Samoa has been successful. The matter is now with the Police.

“The Ministry would like to caution the public that the requirements of the Immigration laws are very clear and any attempt to undermine these requirements is a crime, and will be dealt with accordingly.

“We would also like to encourage the public to report any matter relating to immigration to the Ministry, to ensure that our borders are protected and that the security of Samoa is not compromised.”

Well we could not agree more. And praise is deserved where and when it is due.

In this case, the Immigration office and its international partners must be commended for the work they have put in.

Now of course this matter is far from being resolved. While charges have been laid against Mr. Sione, a Police investigation into the issue of identity fraud is underway. Obviously there is a lot more to come from this matter. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, it must be said that the mere fact the Government has been able to return someone who skipped the country using a false passport is a positive development. But they shouldn’t stop here.

Let’s hope they catch the others too and bring them back to face the music.

What do you think?

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!




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