Asylum Pilgrims To Face Law: George Pell

Asylum pilgrims to face law: George Pell

Lex Hall and Nicola Berkovic
The Australian
August 13, 2008

CARDINAL George Pell says it is “not entirely unexpected” that up to 20 World Youth Day pilgrims have claimed asylum in Australia.

The Sydney archbishop said yesterday he expected “the normal laws of the land” to apply to those pilgrims who had claimed asylum.

“I'm sure they'll be treated sympathetically,” he said.

“I don't really know where they're from, (or) how many there are, but we would expect that whatever the laws of the land are for asylum-seekers they would be applied justly.”

While 20 pilgrims have claimed asylum, refugee advocates say another five have been detained in Sydney's Villawood detention centre since before WYD. The rest were still on three-month holiday visas.

Debby Nicholls, from the Bridge for Asylum-Seekers Foundation, said five African pilgrims – three Nigerians and two from Cameroon, all aged between 20 and 30 – were detained on arrival before the Catholic festival began.

One was told the $1000 he was carrying was insufficient for a three-month stay. Immigration officials provided them with legal assistance and moved them to residential-style accommodation at the centre.

The asylum claims come less than two weeks after the federal Government announced an overhaul of its immigration detention policy, under which detention would be used only if people posed a risk to the community or repeatedly breached visa conditions.

The Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW is handling the WYD applications, and director Tamara Domicelj said those seeking asylum included pilgrims from Cameroon, Burundi, Kenya and Pakistan. It was hard to predict whether there would be more applications.

“Obviously, we're aware there are pilgrims out there who have been given three-month visas, so it might well be at the end of those three months we see a spike in applications for protection,” Ms Domicelj said.

She said any large event would bring people seeking protection from persecution at home, a practice sanctioned under international law.

“It's a very clear and known means for people to flee from persecution in their country of origin,” she said.