SYDNEY, Aug. 29 -- Four young Ethiopian who competed in last week's Junior World Athletics Championships in Sydney have asked for political asylum in Australia, news reports said Thursday. Australian immigration officials said they could not confirm the four had applied for political asylum because of fears for their safety. But officials said the department was aware that they had not departed with rest of the Ethiopian team, which left Australia on Monday. 'They have short-term visas, which currently entitles them to stay in Australia at the moment and until that period expires, the department is unable to comment further,' a spokesman said. News reports said two male and two female Ethiopian long-distance runners had fled their hotel during last week's world championships and were seeking refugee status. The four were named in the Daily Telegraph as Sisay Bezabeh, 18; Mizan Mehari, 16; Sentayehu Fikre, 16; and Aberash Adera, 19. The Telegraph said the four defected to escape ethnic discrimination, imprisonment and even death in their homeland. They also said they were subject to discrimination by team management while competing at the junior championships. The four said they all hoped to continue with their athletic careers and would welcome the chance to represent Australia if given the opportunity. 'We feel we are safe at last from any sort of persecution,' the newspaper quoted Adera as saying. 'At last we hope everything will be all right and probably we'll have a chance to continue our running and may be granted residency,' she said.
A spokesman for Athletics Australia said the four had disappeared during Friday's finals session, before taking their place in their respective events, but had not contacted with the sports body. Bezabeh was ranked No. 1 in the world for the 5,000m and had already qualified for the Friday's 10,000m final, which were both won by fellow Ethiopian Assefa Mezegebu.