Six more missing Sierra Leonean athletes surface

SYDNEY – Another six missing Sierra Leonean athletes, illegally in Australia after their Commonwealth Games visas were revoked, received bridging visas on Tuesday after presenting themselves to immigration officials in Sydney.


Fourteen Sierra Leonean athletes, two-thirds of

their country’s 21-member Commonwealth Games team, went missing from the athletes’ village in Melbourne last week.


“We can confirm a further six missing members of the Sierra Leone Commonwealth Games team have been located in Sydney. The six athletes have been granted bridging visas allowing them to lawfully stay in Australia,” said an immigration official.


Six Sierra Leonean athletes were found by police on Monday in a Sydney beachside house and granted bridging visas pending any official request to stay in Australia.


One of the athletes, 19-year-old Hassan Fullah, told Australian television he feared being killed like his 12-year-old brother if he was forcibly returned to his impoverished homeland.


Sierra Leone was racked by a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 that cost thousands of lives. There were similar disappearances by Sierra Leonean athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in 2002.


Thirteen athletes remain missing after the Commonwealth Games ended in Melbourne on Sunday — two more Sierra Leoneans, nine Cameroonians, a Tanzanian and a Bangladeshi.


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.


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 

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