Almost 200 people who came to Australia for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have applied for refugee visas – a sharp increase from previous estimates.
Immigration officials told a Senate Estimates committee in Canberra on Monday afternoon about 250 people who came to Australia for the Games were still in the country, even though their visas had expired.
Malisa Golightly, from the Department of Home Affairs, said about 190 of those people had already applied for protection visas.
Another 50 people had not been in touch with authorities, Ms Golightly said, while “around 10 to 15” others had applied for other types of visas.
Athletes from several nations — including members of some African national teams — disappeared from the Commonwealth Games village on the Gold Coast last month.
Refugee advocates had already been helping them with their applications, and have previously said the government had agreed to “fast-track” some applications.
Greens senator Nick McKim used the hearing to press Home Affairs to deal with their applications speedily.
“Is there an urgency provision the department applies here to try and get them done quickly?” he asked.
“How long can people expect the department will take to assess their claims?”
Ms Golightly said the department would try to assess them as quickly as possible, but would not give a guarantee on timing.
“They will be assessed according to the standard criteria — that part of the process will be the standard process,” she said.
“We will give them priority as far as we can.”
Overstay rate higher than Dutton predicted
Last week, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said “generally about half a per cent” of those who come to major events in Australia would overstay their visas.
But this cohort is substantially larger, at about 3 per cent of the 8000 people who arrived in the country for the Games.
In comparison, 45 people overstayed their visas or claimed asylum after the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Sarah Dale from Refugee Advice and Casework Service said the government had already started to process some of the claims.
“People who we have been assisting, we’ve seen they’ve been given interviews much more quickly than others who apply onshore,” she told Radio National.
Ms Dale said most of the people who had applied for protection visas were from African nations, and included both athletes and support staff.
And she suggested some of them feared to return home because of their sexuality.
“We’ve heard lots of examples in the media recently, such as people who fear harm based on identifying as homosexual,” she said.
“In a large number of Commonwealth countries it’s criminalised to be homosexual.
“So it’s certainly our experience we’ll see some people who are granted protection.
“As for the overall figures – we won’t know that until the end of processing.”