Four members of Congo’s Olympic team were said to have gone missing in London yesterday as thousands of their fellow London 2012 athletes, officials and UK tourists flew home, the Mail reports.
Their disappearance took the number of African athletes and delegates attending London 2012 who have vanished from their camps or sought political asylum in Britain to 15.
Immigration officials expect that number to increase sharply when athletes’ special London 2012 visas expire in November.
Details of the apparent Congo defections came as it emerged that at least five members of the Cameroon team have pleaded to be allowed to stay in Britain rather than returning with teammates yesterday.
The Home Office refused to say whether the five, all boxers, were seeking asylum.
Two members of the Sudanese team and one Ethiopian are reported to have sought asylum in the UK, one Sudanese is missing, and two other members of the Cameroon team – a swimmer and a female footballer – have also disappeared after suddenly vanishing from the Olympic Village.
A UN-run radio station in Congo said Cedric Mandembo, who competed for the central African country in judo, disappeared after the closing ceremony and has not been reachable on his mobile phone.
He lost his match after 49 seconds and is said to have left the Olympic Village without saying where he was going. He had been due to fly home last night.
Congo judo coach Ibula Masengo, boxing trainer Blaise Bekwa, and national technical director of athletics Guy Nkita had also gone missing, it was claimed. They too were said to have left the Olympic Village with their luggage.
The Home Office declined to comment on the individual cases. Congo team officials were ‘out of contact’ returning home while no one was available for comment at the country’s London embassy.
The disappearances come at a hugely sensitive time for the Government after the success of the Olympics and with the Paralympics due to begin in two weeks.
It follows fears from immigration staff that up to 2 per cent of Olympic visitors from some continents may claim refuge in the UK in the months after the Games.
Authorities in Cameroon, which is regarded as one of the more stable countries in Africa, have accused the boxers of wanting to be economic migrants and say they should have returned home with other athletes.
But the Olympians, who absconded from their Stratford, East London, village last week, told the BBC they had been threatened and wanted a sponsor to help them stay in Britain.
Boxer Thomas Essomba said that there was no support for athletes in Cameroon, adding: ‘We are not staying here because we don’t like our country, but [because we] want to practise the sports we love. We want to become professional. We cannot return to Cameroon… if we return, we will not practise any more.’
As well as claiming they were threatened, the boxers said promised bonuses had been halved.
However, David Ojong, the head of the Cameroon delegation to the Olympics, accused the boxers of lying and said they were making up the allegation to justify desertion.
Investigators have identified several countries where they ‘expect’ asylum claims from athletes and supporters given visas specifically to attend London 2012. Several are African and Middle Eastern.
Asylum claims are not unusual at sporting events. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games more than 20 members of one West African country sought to stay on in Britain.
Before the 2008 Olympics seven members of the Cuban soccer team sought asylum after a qualifying game in the US, and the entire Eritrean national soccer team fled during a 2009 competition in Kenya. Source: Daily Mail.
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