We shouldn’t be surprised by the disappearance of the Sierra Leone athletes from the Commonwealth Games.

It happened in Manchester, with athletes from Sierra Leone, Bangladesh
and Pakistan deciding to start a new life in UK. It also happened at
the Sydney Olympics, with 80 athletes taking a shine to Bondi and Manly
and the Harbour Bridge. Six years later there are still 11 athletes
still missing.

Knowing there was a good chance athletes would use the Melbourne
Commonwealth Games as an immigration opportunity, the organisers warned athletes
who overstayed their visa would not be allowed back into the country
for three years. Not a scary threat, but a warning nonetheless.

Further, athletes from
Pakistan and Bangladesh were forced to sign “guardians or family
members to contracts as guarantors for their return from Melbourne”. If
they broke the agreement, “athletes’ family members (faced) massive
fines and even jail”.

It’s no secret now that those measures haven’t stopped some athletes from leaping the fence.

When Crikey spoke with Victoria Police on Friday, the missing Sierra
Leone athletes were a “matter of concern”, but little more. They had
not broken any laws or breached their visas, and were therefore still
on the right side of the law. Unhelpfully, team officials had refused
to provide the names or any photos of those missing.

But as John Farnham was reliving his glory days on national TV last
night, the Sierra Leone sightseers became fugitives. After a change of
heart, Sierra Leone officials had the missing athletes’ accreditation
withdrawn, making them “unlawful non-citizens”.

A Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) spokesman
told Crikey this morning: “The Immigration Department will liaise
closely with all relevant police departments in finding athletes who no
longer hold the appropriate visas.”

Well, it seems things change fast when DIMA is on your trail. Six of the missing Sierra Leone athletes were found in Sydney this morning.
But DIMA still have some work to do. Bangladesh and Tanzania are
missing one athlete each, Sierra Leone eight, and Cameroon lost nine of its
team overnight.

Which leaves us with just one question: how much weight will DIMA place
on recent on-field performances when deciding on requests for
citizenship?

Peter Fray

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