SYDNEY – The final two missing Sierra Leone Commonwealth Games athletes came out of hiding in Australia on Wednesday and were granted bridging visas pending any formal request to stay in the country, officials said.
Fourteen Sierra Leonean athletes,
two-thirds of the nation’s 21-member Games team, went missing from the athlete’s village in Melbourne last week. All travelled to Sydney where they hid in beachside houses.
Games visas given to athletes do not expire for another month, but Australia revoked the special visas of the 14 missing Sierra Leone athletes, making them illegal immigrants.
“All 14 athletes who were listed by their team as missing and whose Games accreditation was withdrawn have now been located and are lawfully in the community,” said an immigration department statement on Wednesday.
“These temporary bridging visas will allow them to remain lawfully in the Australian community until April 13 while they further consider their options.”
One of the athletes has told Australian television he fears being killed like his brother if he is forcibly returned to his impoverished homeland, which was racked by a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 that claimed around 50,000 lives.
Two of nine missing Cameroon athletes were found by immigration officials on Tuesday in the western city of Perth.
There are now seven Commonwealth Games athletes still missing – five from Cameroon, a Tanzanian boxer and a Bangladeshi runner.
Prime Minister John Howard has warned potential defectors that Canberra would not give widespread asylum to athletes who went missing from visiting sports teams. Australia has some of the toughest policies in the world against illegal immigration. — Reuter