If you want to seek political refuge in Australia, it helps to be a fast-rising cricket star - especially if the national team need your particular skills.

Documents obtained by the ABC have confirmed Pakistani leg spinner Fawad Ahmed was given special treatment and accepted as a refugee despite his application being refused by the Immigration Department and the Refugee Review Tribunal.

At the urging of Cricket Australia, both sides of politics also set aside bitter rivalries before last year's election to pass special legislation to fast-track citizenship and ensure Ahmed was available for matches in Britain.

The decision to accept Ahmed as a refugee was made personally by the then Labor Immigration Minister, Lionel Bowen, who said yesterday that the move was "the right one". He said: "Fawad is a great addition to Australia. He has already made great contributions to his community and the nation."


Ahmed, now 31, fled Pakistan after being threatened by the Taliban in 2009 for his professional cricketing career and his work with the Al-Asif Welfare and Women Development organisation, which advocates education for women and health programmes including vaccination.

"I got seriously threatened by those people," he told Melbourne's Herald Sun last year. "They terrorised me, they made death threats to me. They don't like to educate women. They want the people in the dark so that they can dominate them easily."

But the confidential documents obtained by the ABC showed that Immigration officials considered his case "borderline", and that the tribunal member who reviewed the case did not believe many of his claims of persecution. While the tribunal accepted he was threatened in 2009, it did not believe the development organisation he supported "operated in substance as a legitimate welfare organisation".

The tribunal also held that Ahmed could safely continue playing cricket in other parts of Pakistan and therefore "was not owed protection under the Refugees Convention or complementary protection provisions", the ABC said. He was to have been deported in 2012. But after the national team's caning by India, Australia were desperate for a new spin bowler and focused on Ahmed, once described as the best leg-spinner since Shane Warne. There was a heavyweight lobbying campaign to overturn Ahmed's rejection as a refugee, eventually winning Bowen over. Cricket Australia wanted him available to play for Australia and last year lobbied for changes to the Citizenship Act to fast-track his citizenship. Both major parties agreed, amending the act so the minister could shorten residential requirements for people who could perform "activity of benefit to Australia".

Although playing in one-day and T20 teams, Ahmed has yet to make a test side.