Eleven athletes from three African nations who disappeared during last month’s Commonwealth Games have until midnight tonight to apply for protection visas or risk mandatory detention and deportation for overstaying their visa.
The missing visitors include eight athletes from Cameroon, two from Uganda and one from Rwanda.
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.
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.
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 Cameroon were 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.
Migration agent Dharampreet Jasbir Singh said she believed the athletes have sought asylum. (ABC News: Leonie Mellor)
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.”
She said if they had not taken measures to apply for a visa they ran the risk of getting caught and becoming an unlawful non-citizen.
“Then the person is already having an unlawful and illegal existence in Australia and anytime you’re caught by anybody, any cop or law enforcement agency … you would straight away face detention after that.”