Australia bars entry to deaf delegates

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DEAF CAMPAIGNERS around the world are furious at the decision to ban 50 people from an international conference in Australia by refusing them visas, writes Yvonne Ridley.

The immigration authorities denied visas to some delegates from developing countries but the move has cast a shadow over the opening ceremony, which begins in Brisbane today.

The keynote speaker at the 13th World Federation of the Deaf Congress is United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but some of the other leading speakers will now be absent because of the ban. Those barred by the immigration department from entering Australia included speakers and interpreters from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan and India.

Stephen Rooney, of the British Deaf Association, said he was angry at the treatment the delegates had received. ''It is remarkable and extremely damaging to deaf people around the world, who are battling this sort of thing all the time,'' he said.

Brett Casey, of the Australian Association for the Deaf, said he was furious after being given a ''brush off'' from immigration when he complained about the move. He now fears the situation could be repeated during next summer's Olympic Games.

John Howard, the Prime Minister, announced tough measures last month to combat illegal immigration and Mr Casey believes this strategy is responsible for the ''suspicious attitude'' of immigration authorities.

There has been no official response from the department. However, immigration minister Philip Ruddock, making reference to the Olympics, said competitors and visitors alike should organise their visas well in advance, as tickets did not guarantee automatic entry.