Four people who entered Canada as Olympic spectators have sought to stay in the country as refugees, Canadian immigration officials said yesterday.
Just who the asylum seekers are and where they came from has not yet been made public. But Johanne Nadeau, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the four arrived from countries whose citizens do not require a visitor’s visa to enter Canada.
Nadeau also confirmed the claimants are not among the 27,000 foreign nationals — including athletes, team officials, Olympic officials, workers and members of the media — who are in Vancouver under a special streamlined accreditation process designed to support the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Rather, “they indicated that they originally came to Canada to see the Games and then made a refugee claim,” Nadeau said in an e-mail to the Vancouver Sun.
Nadeau said she couldn’t discuss the origin of the claimants because of privacy laws.
However, Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration policy analyst, suggested the asylum seekers may have come from Hungary or Slovenia, which are among the top source countries for refugees to Canada recently, in large part due to large populations of Roma people.
The Roma — many of whom have claimed ethnic persecution in their home countries — can be found throughout Europe, but travel to Canada is restricted for most by a visa requirement.
Canada has historically seen an influx in refugee numbers during major international sporting events.
During the Calgary Games in 1988, one person, rumoured to be a Romanian coach, sought asylum.
Six years later, 13 people applied for refugee status during the Victoria Commonwealth Games. Among them was Daniel Igali, the Nigerian-born wrestler who went on to win gold for Canada during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Now a resident of Surrey, Igali was among the celebrated torchbearers for the 2010 Games.
In 1999, six Cubans made asylum claims, including a journalist, during the Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
Nadeau said the four recent claimants will have their cases processed individually. “Each case will be assessed according to its own merits,” she said.
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