Athletes who absconded from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games are expected to seek asylum when their visas expire on Tuesday night.
A Sydney-based refugee group has already provided assistance to a “significant number” of the athletes, among whom are eight from Cameroon, two from Uganda and one from Rwanda.
The 11 athletes disappeared from the Gold Coast at various times over the course of the Games. All the Cameroon athletes, except for boxer Christian Ndzie Tsoye, had competed.
Sarah Dale, principal solicitor with the refugee group, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (Racs), declined to provide details, but said a common experience for people seeking asylum in-country in Australia was to first make contact with their Australian-based community.
Dale said it was “always advisable” to seek asylum before a person’s visa – of any type – expired, rendering them an “unlawful non-citizen” subject to detention. Policy would dictate that a bridging visa should be issued while a protection claim was assessed, she said.
“There is no information to suggest they waited until the last minute,” she said. “The reality is that assistance is unfunded … Often the delay is an inability to get legal advice.”
Racs assisted hundreds of asylum seekers with their applications for protection each year, and there was a waiting list, she said.
“The men, women and families who are recognised as needing protection in Australia are allowed to remain only after a complex and difficult process,” Dale said.
“For many, this process would not be fair or efficient without Racs’ vital legal assistance. We endeavour to assist anyone who contacts us who would not otherwise have access to legal advice … With none of this work funded by government in 2018, we rely on our volunteers, partners and supporters to make sure people who seek asylum have an opportunity to live a life in safety.”
The chairman of Sydney’s Northern Beaches Refugee Sanctuary, David Addington, said some of the athletes had already been interviewed by immigration officials.
“I know that some of them have already been given bridging visas … so you don’t get detained,” he said.
Addington’s organisation assisted some of the Sierra Leone athletes who successfully sought asylum after absconding from the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. He said he wasn’t personally involved with these athletes’ cases but had spoken to advocates who were.
The Sierra Leone athletes were among 40 who absconded from the Melbourne Games. Two weightlifters from Cameroon, Francois Etoundi and Simplice Ribouem, were both granted refugee status and competed for Australia in 2018.
Earlier on Tuesday the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, urged the athletes to present themselves to authorities, and warned they could be deported for breaching visa conditions if they did not “self-declare”.
“If people have claims to make, or they have submissions to put to the department, then we’ll consider all of that in due course,” Dutton said.
(c) The Guardiian 2018