Sunday, August 17, 2008
POPE PILGRIMS SEEK AUSTRALIA HOME
About 20 Catholic pilgrims, in Australia since the July visit of Pope Benedict XVI, have applied for asylum, a refugee support group said.
Experts say more visitors are expected to seek asylum as their visas, many of them valid for three months, expire.
Applicants were mainly from African countries, including Zimbabwe, and Pakistan, said Asylum Seekers Centre director Tamara Domicelj.
More than 100,000 pilgrims attended World Youth Day led by the Pope.
"At this stage we've had about 20 people present to us as identified pilgrims indicating they're needing to seek protection in Australia," Ms Domicelj told reporters.
"It might well be that at the end of those three months we see a spike in applications for protection," Ms Domicelj said.
Citing individuals from Cameroon, Burundi, Kenya and elsewhere, Ms Domicelj told Reuters: "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."
Rights watchdog Amnesty International said more pilgrims are likely to 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.
The new Australian government led by Kevin Rudd overturned his predecessor John Howard's stringent immigration policies last month. Mandatory detention in special immigration jails forced many asylum seekers into years behind razor wire awaiting refugee visas.
Detention is now only allowed for people who pose a risk to the community.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration could not confirm whether any World Youth Day visitors were seeking asylum but said most pilgrims had been given three-month visas.
He said all applications for asylum from the pilgrims would be treated on merit.