Com­mon­wealth Games Ath­letes Ap­ply for Asy­lum in Aus­tralia

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Po­ten­tially dozens of Com­mon­wealth Games ath­letes and team staff who went miss­ing dur­ing the Gold Coast event are now seek­ing asy­lum in Aus­tralia, refugee ad­vo­cates say. Sydney’s Refugee Ad­vice and Casework Ser­vice prin­ci­pal solic­i­tor Sarah Dale told AAP the or­gan­i­sa­tion had helped a num­ber of peo­ple lodge ap­pli­ca­tions for pro­tec­tion, be­fore their fed­er­ally-ap­proved games visas ex­pired on Tues­day night.

Ini­tially, it was be­lieved 11 par­tic­i­pants had not re­turned home, in­clud­ing five box­ers and three wrestlers from Cameroon, two ath­letes from Uganda and a Rwan­dan Par­a­lympic pow­er­lift­ing coach. But Ms Dale, who was un­able to give pre­cise num­bers due to pri­vacy issues, said it was more than 19.

“It’s our ex­pec­ta­tion that there are sig­nif­i­cantly more peo­ple in the com­mu­nity that have sought asy­lum here in Aus­tralia,” she told ABC ra­dio on Wed­nes­day.

“It’s a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber... It’s cer­tainly more than what’s be­ing re­ported.”

The com­peti­tors are seek­ing asy­lum for var­i­ous rea­sons and are from sev­eral dif­fer­ent African coun­tries, Ms Dale con­firmed. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has said “some” of those who went miss­ing have al­ready been granted bridg­ing visas to al­low them to stay. The ap­pli­cants will need to demon­strate they fear per­se­cu­tion, whether it be on reli­gious, race, na­tion­al­ity, so­cial group or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion grounds. Aus­tralian Border Force said visa over­stay­ers were “a com­mon fea­ture of many ma­jor in­ter­na­tional events”.

It re­fused to com­ment on in­di­vid­ual cases but is­sued a warn­ing to those at­tempt­ing to re­main in Aus­tralia with­out en­gag­ing with au­thor­i­ties.

“They should be aware that any­one in Aus­tralia with­out a valid visa will be sub­ject to en­force­ment mea­sures aimed at lo­cat­ing, de­tain­ing and re­mov­ing them from Aus­tralia,” ABF said in a state­ment. Those who are re­moved may face a three-year re-en­try ban and could be forced to foot the bill for their re­moval, it said. Tawanda Karasa de­cided to seek asy­lum af­ter com­ing to Aus­tralia for the 2008 Home­less Foot­ball World Cup.

The Brisbane res­i­dent feared for his life in Zim­babwe be­cause of his in­volve­ment in hu­man rights ac­tivism, but said ap­ply­ing for a visa was some­times a “tor­tur­ous” process.

“It took me about three to four months to get per­ma­nent res­i­dency, but I know for some of my col­leagues it took two years,” Mr Karasa told the ABC.

Ms Dale says it is a “stretch” to sug­gest the claimants planned to come to Aus­tralia as part of a Games team and then stay.

“I would not sug­gest that there was a group of peo­ple that had de­cided ‘let’s com­pete in the Com­mon­wealth Games to get to Aus­tralia’,” she said.

But some peo­ple do ar­rive in Aus­tralia to find that there are op­tions, given their cir­cum­stances back home.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has said “some” of those who went miss­ing have al­ready been granted bridg­ing visas.

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