Eighteen World Youth Day pilgrims from Zimbabwe, Burundi, Kenya and Pakistan have now applied to the Australian government for political asylum.
The Australian reports the Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW, which is providing assistance to the pilgrims, is struggling to deal with the surge in claims.
"Eighteen people with serious concerns might not sound like a lot, but for us as an organisation trying to manage that, it's impossible," director Tamara Domicelj said. "People are presenting to us having slept outdoors and with the weather in Sydney lately being so cold and wet, it's a real concern."
Amnesty International refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom predicted the number would rise, with another two months before the majority of three month WYD visas expire. Mr Thom said many of the asylum seekers had come forward so early because they were destitute.
Ms Domicelj said Department of Immigration officials had been liaising with WYD organisers to clarify who should care for the pilgrims. But a WYD spokesman yesterday said he doubted organisers were responsible for supporting the pilgrims.
He said accommodation arranged for the event was no longer available. "The entry and exit of people into and out of Australia are matters for the Department of Immigration," he said. "The Church will cooperate with the department's efforts in this regard."
A Department of Immigration spokesman said he could not comment on specific cases because of "privacy reasons".
SOURCEWorld Youth Day pilgrims apply for asylum (The Australian, 12/8/08)