Iraqi Players Can Stay, For Now: Andrews

Iraqi players can stay, for now: Andrews

The Age
November 19, 2007 – 6:19AM

Three Iraqi soccer players who secretly absconded from their team hotel after competing in Australia have valid visas to remain in the country, the federal government says.

The Iraqi under-23 team was defeated 2-0 by Australia in an Olympic qualifying match in Gosford, on the NSW central coast, on Saturday.

Players Ali Abbas, Ali Mansur and Ali Khadher fled the team's hotel early on Sunday, hours before they were due to return to their war-torn homeland.

The trio went missing with assistant coach Sadi Toma and planned to seek asylum in Australia, Iraqi Football Association assistant secretary Tariq Ahmed said.

Mr Toma contacted team officials in Australia on Sunday, saying the players would seek asylum. There were no details on the coach's intentions.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews was unable to confirm the men's identity.

But at this stage, they were entitled to remain in Australia.

“They continue to hold a valid visa to be in Australia,” she said, although she could not say when their visas expired.

However, none of the missing Iraqis had lodged asylum claims, Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said.

In April, two members of the Democratic Republic of Congo's swimming team sought asylum in Australia after competing at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne.

About 40 foreign athletes and officials sought asylum after participating in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne last year.

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