Hide And Seek: When Swimmers Do A Runner

Hide and seek: when swimmers do a runner

Paul Heinrichs
The Age (Melbourne)
April 8, 2007

'GIVE me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to breathe free” declares the poem inside the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York's harbour.

If Australia had a metaphorical equivalent, say, somewhere at the Commonwealth Games Village or Susie O'Neill pool, it might read: “Give me your astute, your energetic, your sporting individuals longing to escape persecution ”

It seems a new way into Australia is via the athletic loophole, especially for performers from some developing countries and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews is not happy. The most recent example has come from African swimmers at the FINA World Championships, some of whom have failed to turn up at Tullamarine for their trip home.

It was “completely undesirable” that some athletes appeared to be using nomination by their home sporting associations as an escape route from their countries, Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said.

“We go to fairly extensive lengths to ensure that people do not go missing,” she said. “We work closely with the organisations, FINA and the Commonwealth Games etcetera, to ensure that it doesn't happen. It's unfortunate that it does and it's very undesirable.”

In the wake of the Commonwealth Games, 45 people made a bid for a new life by going missing when the time came to go back home. Eventually, 40 turned up and sought asylum, including the 15 who formed the bulk of the Sierra Leonean team and were among the 32 granted protection visas.

Sydney refugee advocate David Addington, who handled the Sierra Leonean cases, said they had made a successful transition to life in Australia and were all in work or education.

Five of the 40 were refused visas, one case is being reviewed and two applications are pending.

But the other five three Ghanaians, including an athlete, a team official and a guest, plus an athlete each from Nigeria and Tonga are presumably still out there, overstaying and sought by Immigration.

They will go into detention if found but in multicultural Australia, it is increasingly easy to merge.

The latest sporting absentees are Congolese swimmers Iglay Dangassat-Sissoulou and Aymard Lumuamu-Dimbu, who did not catch the bus from the Parkview Hotel to the airport on Monday night.

Their coach reported the matter to Immigration and left their tickets and passports behind as he left with the other two swimmers.

Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said it “would have been ideal, really, for the coach to have kept a closer watch on them”.

Officially, the men have visas which do not expire until June 21, so they have until then to apply for asylum if they wish.

Although it is not known for sure, they could be staying with other Congolese refugees, 889 of whom were accepted into Australia between 2003 and 2006. They have settled in capital cities and in Shepparton.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been in almost constant chaos and civil war since 1997, and some estimates put the number of people killed at four million.

The missing men were eliminated from the championships after swimming slow times in heats for the 50 metres freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly on March 21 one raised a laugh in the crowd by falling off his block.

Swimming to freedom in Australia has a long tradition. In 1853, a young English sailor named James Baillieu jumped ship in Port Phillip Bay and swam ashore at Queenscliff to found a dynasty that would play an important role in Australia's development. Victorian Opposition leader Ted Baillieu is a descendent.