After the close of last month’s Commonwealth Games, a number of competitors failed to return to their home countries. While the exact number of athletes who are unaccounted for is unclear, it’s believed to be more than 100.
The missing individuals are believed to be from Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. Amazingly, almost a third of the Cameroon team are unaccounted for.
All athletes came to Australia on a competitors visa, which expired on Tuesday. This week, five of the missing athletes have emerged to seek asylum and been granted bridging visas. Bridging visas allow individuals to live, work, and study while their cases are reviewed by Department of Home Affairs.
Liz Huang Hughes-Brown, the registered migration agent from Welcome Legal who is working with the athletes, explained to Fairfax: “Australia has legal obligations not to return any individual to a country where he or she would face persecution or be at risk of significant harm.” She added that their claims for protection fall “ within the eligibility criteria for Australia to grant them protection”.
In an online statement The Department of Home Affairs commented: “We will not be commenting on individual cases or providing running commentary on those remaining.”
The Department also explained that some individuals have already applied for other visas, and that “Those cases will be rigorously assessed in line with standard processes.”
They added: “For those who attempt to remain in the community 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.”
It’s not uncommon for athletes to disappear after global sporting events, or use it as an opportunity to apply for asylum. Refugee Council President Phil Glendenning told Radio National Breakfast this week: “If you look at the history, after the 2006 [Melbourne Commonwealth] Games, 45 stayed. The 2000 [Sydney] Olympics, 145 stayed and 35 applied for asylum. We saw the same thing with World Catholic Youth Day, it’s not unusual.”