By Jonathan Barrett
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities are searching for 50 athletes and officials missing a month after the Commonwealth Games ended in the host city of the Gold Coast while another 190 are seeking asylum, the country’s home affairs minister said on Tuesday.
Minister Peter Dutton told reporters in Canberra an operation had been organised to find the 50 people and “take them into immigration detention and eventually to deport them”.
He said another 190 people had sought protection visas, a class of visa in Australia assigned to refugees. Fifteen more have applied for other types of visas.
While some participants at major international sporting events overstay their visas or seek asylum in the host countries, the number of claims in Australia following this year’s Commonwealth Games, held April 4-15, is high.
Participants who went missing or sought refuge at previous Commonwealth Games, such as those held in Melbourne in 2006 and Manchester in 2002 and Glasgow in 2014, typically numbered in the dozens, not hundreds, according to government statements at the time.
More than 6,600 athletes and team officials attended the 2018 event, held on Australia’s sub-tropical Gold Coast.
Some athletes, including those from Cameroon, in Central Africa, did not show up for their events.
Dutton said on Tuesday under immigration law, people who apply for temporary protections visas are given bridging visas, which allow them to stay in Australia while their claims are processed.
Asylum seekers are a highly contentious political issue in Australia, which has a policy of stopping the flow of such people before they land in the country. Its policy of sending asylum seekers for processing to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru has drawn criticism from the United Nations and international rights groups.
Australia defends its tough laws by saying it deters people from making dangerous sea journeys to try to reach its shores after thousands drowned.
(Editing by Sam Holmes)