Australia: Missing Congolese Swimmers Can Claim Asylum

Australia: Missing Congolese swimmers can claim asylum

The Star Online
April 4, 2007

MELBOURNE (AP) – Two Congolese swimmers who failed to catch a flight home after the World Swimming Championships can make asylum claims in Australia, the country's top immigration official said Wednesday.

However, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews warned that any attempt by Aymard Lumuamu-Dimbu and Iglay Dangassat-Sissoulou to evade officials or overstay visas, which expire in June, would not help their case.

The pair were among four members of the Congo team that competed at the world championships in Melbourne last week. Neither progressed beyond their heats.

Two members of the Congo team are reported to have caught flights to the central African nation ravaged by civil war, but Lumuamu-Dimbu and Dangassat-Sissoulou did not report for the flight, according to the Federal Government.

A spokeswoman for the immigration minister said the missing men were entitled to stay in Australia until June 21, but would be in the country illegally if they remained beyond that date.

“They obviously have valid visas, but it's important to know their whereabouts and ascertain their safety,'' she said on condition of anonymity, in line with policy.

“If they have any (asylum) claims they wish to make, we can put that process in train. But their case is not helped if they become illegal persons,'' the spokeswoman said.

Clyde Salumu, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Association of Victoria state, said he would help the swimmers if they seek his assistance.

“The civil war has not ended. There has been war since 1997 and millions are dead. In many places, there is serious instability, militia and areas that are dangerous,'' Salumu said.

Almost 4 million people out of the Congo's population of 62 million have died from injuries in the civil war and war-related diseases.

Forty athletes and officials, many from Africa, sought asylum in Australia following the Commonwealth Games last year.

Among them were six athletes from Sierra Leone who vanished from the Games and later turned up in Sydney.

Of the 37 visa applications decided so far, 32 had temporary protection visas approved and five were refused, The Melbourne Age reported.

Temporary protection visas allow applicants for asylum or refugee status to remain in Australian for three years, and to apply at the end of that time for extended residence.