HUNDREDS of people who came to Australia for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last month including athletes have overstayed their visas, with some 200 having since applied for protection visas in the country.
Immigration officials told a parliamentary committee that of the 250 people who had arrived in Australia for the Games and had overstayed, some 190 of them had already applied for asylum, reported the national broadcaster ABC News on Monday.
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said last week that “generally around half a percent” of visitors for major events overstay their visas, however that some 3 percent of the 8,000 arriving for the Games had overstayed.
Eight athletes from Cameroon, two from Uganda and a Rwandan para-powerlifting coach went missing from the April 4-15 Games at the Gold Coast, with Minister Dutton threatening them to give themselves up or face being deported.
The eight Cameroon athletes comprised one-third of its 24-athlete delegation.
“If they breach the conditions, they’re subject to enforcement action,” Dutton told reporters last week. “Like anyone else, they’re expected to operate within the law, and enforcement action will take place to identify those people and to deport them if they don’t self-declare.”
According to ABC News, refugee advocates have been assisting the athletes with their applications and have previously said the government has agreed to “fast track” some of the asylum claims.
The Immigration Department said Monday that the athletes would be “assessed according to the standard criteria … we will give them priority as far as we can.”
Australian authorities often grant temporary ‘bridging’ visas that allow in-country residency applicants to remain while their cases are assessed. Illegal immigration is a highly contentious political issue in Australia.
Its hardline immigration policy, which requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea to be sent for processing to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, has been condemned by human rights groups.
Australia defends its tough law by saying it deters people from making dangerous sea journeys to try to reach its shores after thousands drowned.
Additional reporting from Reuters.