Immigration authorities ‘fast-tracking’ some athlete asylum applications, lawyer says
Commonwealth Games athletes from Cameroon are among dozens of foreign athletes thought to have remained in Australia. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy)
Up to 100 foreign Commonwealth Games delegates without visas ‘may still be in Australia’
Australian immigration authorities appear to be “fast-tracking” bids for asylum by overseas athletes and sports officials after the Commonwealth Games, a leading refugee lawyer says.
David Manne, the executive director of Melbourne-based Refugee Legal, said his agency was acting for “quite a number of people” and it was possible there were 100 people nationally seeking refugee status.
Athletes who disappeared from the Commonwealth Games village on the Gold Coast last month, including from a number of African national teams, had until midnight on Tuesday to apply for asylum.
Mr Manne said a number of these asylum seekers had already received calls from the Department of Home Affairs and suggested the rapid response stood in contrast to the drawn-out handling of many other clients’ applications.
“It does appear that people are being fast-tracked, that their claims are being looked at very quickly,” he told the ABC.
“That’s actually in and of itself not a bad thing at all because what we’d all expect, I think, and certainly our clients would hope for is a fair, but also an efficient and quick process.
“We act for thousands of people and for so many of them seeking asylum, it takes sometimes up to two years even get an interview about their case after they’ve applied.
“So let’s welcome it, if indeed there is a fast-track.”
The Cameroon athletes missing from the Commonwealth Games Village on Queensland’s Gold Coast. (LtoR, top row to bottom row): Fotsala Simplice, Fokou Arsene, Ndzie Tchoyi Christian, Yombo Ulrich, Ndiang Christelle, Minkoumba Petit David, Fouodji Arcangeline Sonkbou and Matam Matam Olivier Heracles.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told radio program 2GB on Thursday the athletes would “generally be put onto a bridging visa until their claim can be assessed”.
“And then if they’re found not to be owed protection, they’re on a plane out of here,” he said.
Asked if the athletes would be in a stronger legal position than other asylum seekers to challenge Home Affairs Department decisions on their status compared with other asylum seekers, Mr Dutton said that “once they’re here on our soil, they’re into our system, so that means they get the legal protections”.
Peter Dutton said athletes would be on bridging visas while their claims were assessed. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
“Like most Australians, I shake my head sometimes when you look at the conditions and protections. Some of these people have more legal rights than Australian citizens themselves.”
Earlier this week, Mr Dutton warned that overseas athletes who did not lodge asylum applications by the Tuesday night deadline would be deported.
Mr Manne declined to say exactly how many people his agency acted for or what countries they came from, citing client privacy obligations.
He said he did not know the total number of people who had applied for asylum.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s a longstanding history of athletes seeking asylum and being granted protection,” he said.
“In fact, some of those athletes in previous games have gone on to not only be granted protection but competing for Australia in future games.
“Just because they’re athletes doesn’t mean they don’t have fears for their safety.”
Earlier this week, Brisbane resident Tawanda Karasa, originally from Zimbabwe, told the ABC he applied for asylum after travelling to Australia for the Homeless Football World Cup in 2008.
“It took me about three to four months to get permanent residency, but I know for some of my colleagues it took two years,” Mr Karasa said.