Australia grants temporary asylum to 12 Commonwealth Games athletes

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Twelve athletes from Sierra Leone, who disappeared from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne last week, have been granted bridging visas by Australia's Department of Immigration. The group have been released into the Sydney community. Three of the Sierra Leoneans say they face forced female circumcision if they go back.

Department of Immigration spokesperson Sandi Logan said the bridging visas were only a stop-gap measure. "The bridging visa simply enables them to be here lawfully if in the period of time between now and then the type of visa they apply for requires further investigation on a country basis or a country profile, if in fact that's the type of visa and the type of investigation that's required," he said.

A group of six Sierra Leoneans contacted the Northern Beaches Refugee Sanctuary - who had previously given shelter and assistance to six other missing athletes. Members of the first group of athletes told media that they feared for their safety if they were forced to return to Sierra Leone.

Originally 14 of the nation's 22-strong Games delegation were reported missing. Two other Sierra Leone athletes remain at large after visas allowing them to compete in the Games were cancelled by the Department of Immigration.

In total, eleven athletes are still missing after the Games finished on Sunday, including seven from Cameroon, a Bangladeshi runner, and a Tanzanian boxer.

The ABC report that two missing Cameroon athletes have contacted Immigration officials in Perth. Refugee advocate group, The Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD) says the men are receiving legal advice. The Department of Immigration says they are in the country legally as their visas do not expire until April 26.

Twenty-one athletes disappeared from the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Britain.