Missing Commonwealth Games Athletes Found In Sydney Seeking Asylum

A group of African athletes who disappeared from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last month have turned up in Sydney seeking legal advice.

What you need to know
  • Up to 19 athletes from African nations went missing from the Commonwealth Games
  • A number are now reportedly seeking legal advice in Sydney
  • An immigration lawyer warns they face an uphill battle to remain in Australia

A number of athletes who disappeared from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last month have reportedly resurfaced in Sydney a day before their visas are set to expire, in a bid to seek asylum.

Up to 19 international athletes went on the run in the closing week of the Games, with midnight on May 15 the deadline for applying for protection visas.

Eleven of the athletes are believed to be from Cameroon, while others are from Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

The athletes risk detention if no action is taken, however a group of the athletes have reportedly been consulting with Refugee Advice and Casework Service in the Sydney suburb of Randwick.

The Cameroon team marches into Carrara Stadium for the opening ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Image: AP/Mark Schiefelbein

Ray Turner of Turner Coulson Immigration Lawyers said that if the athletes apply for protection visas, they will be granted bridging visas while the applications are processed.

“If they face persecution back in Cameroon, once they lodge the protection visa application, they are granted a bridging visa, which keeps them lawful," he said.

Turner did however warn that most onshore protection visas are rejected, and stated these athletes face an uphill battle presumably due to their status back home.

"These people can reasonably assume they are the elite in their country, or part of the elite in their country, so starting from that base it is a very difficult argument to show they would be subject to persecution."

At the time the athletes went missing, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stressed there was no cause for concern, saying no athletes had breached visas by leaving the Games.

The Minister also promised his department would track them down, but on Tuesday refused to say whether it had.

“I would say to anyone outside conditions of their visas associated with Commonwealth Games to make contact with the Australian Border Force so that arrangements can be made for that person to be returned back to their country or origin," he said.

Galal Yafai of Great Britain (left) competes against Simplice Fotsala of Cameroon in the men's light fly 46-49kg preliminary bout at the Rio Olympics. Image: Getty

“If people have claims to make or submissions to put to the department, then we will consider all of that in due course."

The Minister did not mince words, saying that if anyone breached their visa conditions "enforcement action will take place to identify those people and deport them".

If the athletes are not granted protection visas, there are plenty of avenues to appeal, however upon losing those appeals the athletes will be removed from the country.

It's not the first time African athletes have disappeared from high profile sporting competitions -- in 2012, seven athletes from Cameroon went missing from the Olympic Village in London.