World Youth Day Pilgrims Apply For Asylum

World Youth Day pilgrims apply for asylum

Nicola Berkovic
The Australian
August 12, 2008

AT least 18 pilgrims who arrived in the country for World Youth Day have applied for asylum.

Most are from African nations, including Zimbabwe, Burundi and Kenya, but there are also some Pakistanis.

The Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW, which is providing assistance to the pilgrims, is struggling to deal with the surge in claims.

“Eighteen people with serious concerns might not sound like a lot, but for us as an organisation trying to manage that, it's impossible,” director Tamara Domicelj said. “People are presenting to us having slept outdoors and with the weather in Sydney lately being so cold and wet, it's a real concern.”

Amnesty International refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom predicted the number would rise, with another two months before the majority of three-month WYD visas expire. Mr Thom said many of the asylum-seekers had come forward so early because they were destitute.

Ms Domicelj said Department of Immigration officials had been liaising with WYD organisers to clarify who should care for the pilgrims. But a WYD spokesman yesterday said he doubted organisers were responsible for supporting the pilgrims.

He said accommodation arranged for the event was no longer available. “The entry and exit of people into and out of Australia are matters for the Department of Immigration,” he said. “The church will co-operate with the department's efforts in this regard.”

A Department of Immigration spokesman said he could not comment on specific cases because of “privacy reasons”.

He said most of the 100,000 international pilgrims entered Australia on special three-month WYD visas, for which fees had been waived. But he said the pilgrims were required to adhere to the same conditions as other visitors to Australia. “All of the visa applications … were thoroughly assessed for immigration and security risks before being granted a visa and World Youth Day participants were not automatically granted a visa.”

He added that whenever there was an influx of visitors because of a major event, the department prepared for a possible increase in protection claims.

The claims for asylum come after 40 pilgrims disappeared while on a stopover in New Zealand on their way to WYD.

The claims come less than two weeks after the Government announced a major overhaul of its immigration detention policy.

Under the changes, detention would be used only if department officials could show a person posed a risk to the community or had repeatedly breached visa conditions.

Otherwise they would be released into the community until their status was determined.