MORE than half of the Afghan athletes who travelled to Sydney for the Invictus Games have failed to depart the country amid fears they may be killed if they return home.
Five athletes and one official did not arrive at the city’s airport to fly home with the rest of the team on Sunday.
Their whereabouts are currently unknown but a volunteer who assisted the Afghanistan team during the competition believes they plan to formally seek asylum.
“One of them actually said when he came and saw the people here – basically it was his first time coming out of the country, being in a safe and peaceful environment – that totally changed his perceptions,” Mirwais Ramaki told the Australian broadcaster SBS.
“They never actually had the intention to stay, they planned to go back, but these 10 days actually changed them.
“One of them said to me, ‘I went and fought, I lost my leg and I lost my brother, my brother was killed, I don’t want to be killed, I don’t want my children to lose parts of their bodies’.”
A total of eight athletes and three officials arrived in Sydney on October 18 and were due to depart together on Sunday.
They were present at Saturday’s Invictus Games closing ceremony, attended by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, after a week of events.
Those who stayed behind – who have not been identified in the media – have valid visas to remain in the country until the end of November so no breach has yet occurred.
Mr Ramaki, a former refugee who has lived in Australia for four years, said he was extremely concerned about their welfare as they had disabilities, extremely limited English and little money.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said: “The Invictus Games competitors and officials may remain lawfully in Australia until the expiry of their visas. Their visas have not yet expired.”
This year’s event – founded by Prince Harry – was the fourth time it had been held and involved about 500 wounded and ill veterans from 18 participating nations.
It is not known if any athletes or officials from other nations have stayed behind.
Following the Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast in April, around 250 athletes and officials, mostly from African nations including Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uganda and Cameroon stayed in Australia, with 200 lodging asylum applications.