The refugee casework and legal advice service has confirmed athletes missing after the Commonwealth Games have contacted their centre in Sydney.
Athletes from five African nations who disappeared during last month’s Commonwealth Games have until midnight to apply for protection visas or risk mandatory detention and deportation for overstaying their visa.
The ABC understands more than 19 athletes are still in Australia and are seeking advice on how to stay.
The missing visitors include eight athletes from Cameroon, two from Uganda, one from Rwanda and others from Ghana and Sierra Leone.
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) said a number of athletes had contacted the organisation in Randwick to organise applications for protection visas.
“Anyone whose visa expires is unlawfully in Australia and therefore they’re at risk of detention and so we’d encourage them to apply for another visa so that they can either remain in Australia or if they decide to go home to go home,” RACS solicitor Ben Lumsdaine said.
“People who have approached us, they often have come from quite difficult backgrounds, they’re quite afraid of what might happen including some government authorities in some cases.
“Having a threat of detention might make them a little bit wary of going through the process.”
A spokeswoman for RACS would not comment on individual cases but said several had sought help from the organisation’s various services which includes filling out visa application forms in person and online.
Athletes likely applied online: Immigration lawyer
Immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said he believed they will almost certainly have already applied for protection visas online.
“That application might take between one to one and a half years based on current processing trends,” he said.
In the meantime, they would automatically be granted bridging visas until their protection claims could be assessed.
Mr Jeans said the interim visa would enable group members to work, access a temporary Medicare card and remain lawfully in Australia until a decision was made by the Department of Home Affairs.
The Cameroon athletes left in three waves during the Games — the first three departing from the village on the night of April 8, the following day two more were declared missing and a few days later three others left their rooms and didn’t return.
Two Ugandans and a Rwandan power-lifting coach are also unaccounted for.
“I think they’re still here. If they’ve disappeared from the Games, it means they’re going to stay [in Australia],” Mr Jeans said.
“They’ve either gone to the African communities in Sydney or Melbourne.
“Many of the African people who have come to Australia have either been through offshore refugee cases or onshore refugee cases and they’re very well aware of their rights and immigration possibilities.”
Regular occurrence at large sporting events
A department spokesperson would not confirm exactly how many athletes were still missing.
In a statement, the spokesperson said visiting accredited athletes and officials were able to remain lawfully in Australia until May 15 when their visas expired.
It is not uncommon for athletes and officials from poorer countries to go missing during major sporting events.
After the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, 26 athletes and officials sought asylum in Australia.
Among them were Cameroon weightlifters Francois Etoundi and Simplice Ribouem, who were both granted refugee status and have competed for Australia since — Etoundi won bronze medal in his class at the Gold Coast games.
Mr Jeans said a protection visa required a person to show they had a well-founded fear of persecution — because of their political opinion, social group membership, religion, race or nationality.
He said there was also a category for very well-known international sportspeople.
“What can happen is that even if their case is unsuccessful in refugee status, they can appeal to the [Home Affairs] minister and the minister has the personal power to grant a visa,” he said.
Brisbane migration agent Dharampreet Jasbir Singh said anyone applying for a protection visa would need to have their claims verified.
“It’s a very thorough and meticulous process done by the Department of Home Affairs,” she said.
“I would imagine they [the missing athletes] would have definitely applied for a protection visa, if they feel that they really have claims against their country-people, and there is nobody in the law enforcement who is going to guarantee their safety once they go back.”
Source: ABC News