Almost 200 athletes seek asylum in Australia after Commonwealth Games

Jonathan Pearlman
The Telegraph
The Men's 100 metres final of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. More athletes have claimed asylum than at the London 2012 Olypmics - Getty Images AsiaPac
The Men's 100 metres final of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. More athletes have claimed asylum than at the London 2012 Olypmics - Getty Images AsiaPac

Authorities in Australia revealed that almost 200 athletes and officials who visited for the Commonwealth Games have sought asylum— a sharp increase from numbers at other recent events.

Since the games in the Gold Coast ended last month, there have been various sightings and reports of missing athletes around the country, mostly involving competitors from African countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Cameroon.

Australia issued 13,600 visas to athletes and team officials for the event. Immigration authorities told a parliament committee that 8,103 people arrived on the visas but only 7,848 have since left. Of the 255 who appear to have remained in the country, 205 are on temporary bridging visas after applying for other visas. 

Malisa Golightly, from the department of home affairs, said about 190 of these people had already applied for asylum. 

“My understanding is that anybody who is onshore can apply for protection legally once they are here but then of course they are considered against the criteria for that visa,” she said.

"They will be assessed according to the standard criteria… We will give them priority as far as we can."

The number of asylum seekers at this Commonwealth Games appears to be much greater than other similar events. 

A year after the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Home Office said 21 athletes or officials applied for or were granted political asylum and another 39 were unaccounted for, noting this “does not mean that they did not leave”.

Following the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, 45 people overstayed their visas or claimed asylum. And, following the London Olympics in 2012, in which some 70,000 visas were issued, 54 athletes and officials were granted political asylum.

Last week, Peter Dutton, the home affairs minister, said "generally about half a per cent" of those who attend major events in Australia tend to overstay their visas.

But the amount following this year’s Commonwealth Games came to about 3 per cent.

Refugee advocates said many of those who sought asylum were from African countries and were homosexuals who feared persecution at home.

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