AUSTRALIAN immigration officials did an “explosive body search” on Manasseh Maelanga despite being told he was the Solomon Islands’ deputy prime minister.
The incident last week at Brisbane International Airport infuriated Mr Maelanga, who yesterday expressed utter disappointment at the treatment.
“I understand we leaders are exempted to immigration checks and body searches in international airports but it seems we have always been categorised by Australia,” Mr Maelanga said.
“This is a disgrace and I am disappointed that these people do not have respect for leaders of our sovereign countries.
“This is not the first time that this has happened to me but it’s time I have to voice out my disappointment to avoid such happening again in future,” he added.
When contacted, a spokesperson for the Australian High Commission said:
“We were unaware of the incident until this (yesterday) afternoon and we’re now looking into it as a matter of priority.”
Mr Maelanga said he was questioned twice upon arrival from Nadi into Brisbane and also when he was on his way back from attending the SIDS conference in Samoa.
A protocol officer, Kennedy Gwao, who accompanied the deputy prime minister had to intervene to explain to the Australian officials during that time that they were approaching the deputy prime minister of Solomon Islands.
However, the immigration officers said it was a “normal procedure”.
Mr Gwao said the incident was “ridiculous”.
A government officer travelling with Mr Maelanga said they arrived into Brisbane Airport just like ordinary passengers.
“Only the deputy prime minister underwent the explosive body search. Those of us travelling with him were not,” the officer said.
Mr Maelanga said he was not surprised that Australian immigration officers had chosen to do that because they also did the same to Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo last year and other Pacific island leaders.
Mr Lilo has had a ‘stand-off’ with Australian Immigration officials at the Brisbane Airport on his way to Bundaberg from Indonesia.
He later received an apology from the Australian government.
A furious Mr Maelanga said he would formally write to the Australian High Commissioner in Honiara to register his disappointment over the “disrespectful treatment” he underwent in Brisbane.