Wednesday, 13 August, 2008, 08:36 AM Doha Time
CANBERRA: About 20 Catholic pilgrims who attended World Day Youth services in Australia with Pope Benedict XVI last month have claimed asylum, with more applications expected, refugee advocates said yesterday.
The majority of applicants were from Africa, including Zimbabwe, where political and economic upheaval have driven millions to flee, as well as Cameroon, Burundi and Kenya, the Sydney-based Asylum Seeker Centre said.
“We are seeing utter destitution, we see malnutrition, we are seeing depression, we see homelessness. People are coming to us from a place of crisis,” centre spokeswoman Tamara Domicelj said.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International said more of the 100,000 overseas pilgrims who attended World Youth Day would seek asylum once special three-month visitor visas expired. An estimated 3,000 were still in the country.
“There are still a number of people in the community who came out during World Youth Day. There is certainly an expectation that some will decide to seek asylum rather that return,” Amnesty International refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said. Australia’s new centre-left government last month dumped mandatory detention in special immigration jails for asylum hopefuls, saying it would now be used only for people who posed a risk to the community.
The policy overturned a controversial practice enforced by the previous government of sending asylum seekers to small Pacific nations for processing. Many spent years behind razor wire awaiting refugee visas.
Immigration officials refused to comment on the latest applications, which also included some from Pakistan.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, said while the church was sympathetic to the claims of pilgrims for refuge in Australia, they had to follow Australian laws.