Over 200 African athletes and officials want asylum in Australia post-Commonwealth Games

Cameroon’s Arcangeline Fouodji Sonkbou weightlifter is said to have gone missing.
Cameroon’s Arcangeline Fouodji Sonkbou weightlifter is said to have gone missing.
Image: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
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Over 200 African athletes and officials who travelled to Australia for the Commonwealth Games are claiming asylum. The games in the city of Gold Coast ended on Apr. 15 but some of the athletes vanished in between events while others did not even show up for their events.

Those who went missing include a third of the Cameroonian delegation, at least six Ugandans and a Rwandan weightlifting coach who never returned from a toilet break while his athlete was still competing.

After a warning by Australia’s home affairs minister that those who overstayed their visas will be locked up, the missing athletes and officials are beginning to emerge from their hideouts and many have begun applying for refugee protection to enable them stay in the country. Australian officials are on the lookout for 50 others who have officially overstayed their visas on May 15 but are still unaccounted for.

Reports say some have said they need protection from religious persecution back home while others have claimed their sexual orientation makes them a target of homophobic violence. 

While some might have genuine concerns about their safety back home, sports tournaments hosted in richer countries have long been used as an avenue to seek a better life as they offer guaranteed entry visas. Australia has seen two high-profile cases in the last two decades—the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games hosted by Melbourne. Twenty-one African athletes and officials went missing or sought asylum after the 2012 London Olympics.

Many athletes are discouraged by mismanagement, corruption and poor welfare packages as well as sub-par training facilities which often mean being an athlete is not the most lucrative livelihood.”

Athletes and sports officials are not the only ones that use these tournaments as an opportunity for an unofficial migration. Ghana’s deputy sports minister was suspended in April after it was discovered tens of Ghanaians had pretended to be sports journalists to be added to the official Commonwealth Games list. They were uncovered because many could not answer basic questions about the sports which they claimed to cover.  In 2014, 200 Ghanaian football fans who travelled to Brazil to watch the World Cup applied for asylum.

Australia has instituted very tough measures to deter migration, which the UN has described as ‘inhumane’ but in March 2018, the government said it was considering relaxing the rules for white South African farmers.