Home Office ‘loses’ 39 athletes after Glasgow 2014

The Home Office said 21 have applied for or been granted political asylum. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Home Office said 21 have applied for or been granted political asylum. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SOME 39 foreign athletes and others who came to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year have vanished, it has emerged.

Home Office officials have admitted they are “unable to confirm” their departures from Scotland, almost a year on.

Being a professional athlete does not exempt people from persecution

Gary Christie

They said an additional 21 have applied for or been granted political asylum, while six have requested permission to stay through other means.

But officials have “lost” a total of 39 foreign athletes, officials or the family members who accompanied them.

Conservative Philip Davies, MP for Shipley in Yorkshire, who uncovered the figures, said: “It is absolutely ludicrous that people who have come over to represent their countries in the Commonwealth Games have stayed on and claimed asylum.

“If these countries persecute their top athletes, I am pretty sure they’d have been suspended from the Commonwealth.

“This just goes to show what a soft touch we are.”

A total of 105,000 competitors, coaches, officials and their family members were granted clearance to travel to Scotland for the Games.

Officials from the Home Office were yesterday “unable to confirm” the departure of 39 of them, but said that “does not mean that they did not leave”.

Laurie Ray, of Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, said: “The ability to claim asylum doesn’t make us a soft touch – it makes us signatories to the refugee convention.

“I also find the notion that just because somebody is a sportsman they wouldn’t be subjected to persecution slightly odd.

“And to say that all members of the Commonwealth are upholding human rights is quite ridiculous.”

Gary Christie, of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The 21 people who applied for asylum after the Games would have to prove to the Home Office, like all refugees, they would be likely to experience persecution if they returned to their home countries.

“Many Commonwealth nations, such as Uganda and Sri Lanka, have terrible records of human rights abuses and violently repressive regimes. It is ­illegal to be gay in 42 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries.

“Being a professional athlete does not exempt people from persecution.

“Mr Davies should be using his position as an MP to condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur across the Commonwealth, rather than attacking the tiny number who have sought our protection.”

Among those seeking asylum is Sierra Leone sprinter Jimmy Thoronka, who vanished soon after the Glasgow Games ended.

He was later found to have spent the winter on the streets, having failed to return to his ­Ebola-hit West African home. He is now in Home Office accommodation awaiting a hearing.