Refugee lawyer Sarah Dale has told Australia’s RN Breakfast programme that there may be up to 100 athletes from last month’s Commonwealth Games still in Australia after their visas to travel to the Games expired.
Previously it was assumed that there were 19 athletes who had fled the games seeking asylum in Australia, but this raises the prospect of the number being significantly higher.
The story first broke during the games when five Cameroonian athletes went missing, including one competitor who chose to abscond prior to competing in the quarter finals of the men’s 91kg boxing. Cameroon is a nation that has been riven by conflict and corruption for much of the 36-year reign of President Paul Biya, and it’s believed that the five athletes wished to claim asylum in Australia.
As the Games continued it emerged that significantly more than just the five Cameroonians had absconded from the athlete’s village and remained unaccounted for as the Games drew to a close. This was despite a harsh warning in January from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stating that ‘Australia has very tough laws and they need to abide by the laws’.
Dutton has maintained his hard line as the deadline for the athletes to leave Australia has neared, telling the athletes they needed to ‘jump on a plane’ or face being put in detention. However, these warnings have not been heeded and the visas granted to athletes competing at the games expired on April 16th and the asylum seekers are now at risk of deportation.
Lawyers working on asylum claims for Commonwealth Games clients have reported that ‘scores’ of people are in this situation, and in order to remain in Australia while asylum claims are processed, they will be required to obtain bridging visas.
Dutton (pictured above) reiterated his department’s commitment to ensuring the asylum seekers are not allowed to stay now their visas have expired, telling 2GB radio that, ‘the Australian Border Force […] will be rounding these people up and deporting them as quickly as possible’. Dutton took the opportunity to criticise the entire Australian asylum process, complaining that ‘some of these people have more legal rights than Australian citizens themselves’.
This isn’t the first time athletes competing in Australia have refused to return home following the end of competition. After the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, over 40 athletes and officials sought asylum in Australia and two of these, weightlifters Francois Etoundi and Simplice Ribouem, competed in 2018 for Australia having been granted refugee status.
As for those who have remained in Australia after their visa expiration date, it remains to be seen as to whether they will be granted the bridging visas allowing their asylum cases to be processed without the threat of deportation. Any individual deported after overstaying their visa will face a three-year ban on travel to Australia.