21 Oct 2003

Time runs out for Tongan rugby team still in NZ to give itself up

7:37 am on 21 October 2003

A group of Tongan rugby players, in hiding from immigration officials, have run out of time to come forward without being punished.

The Immigration Service says a 42-day "period of grace" has expired and the men now face deportation and a five year ban.

Fourteen members of the Vava'u under-21 squad vanished after checking in at Auckland International Airport in September.

The Immigration Service says none of the men have come forward voluntarily.

But its chief operating officer, Brendan Quirke, says it has not given up hope of finding them.

"They may come to our attention in any number of ways thropugh agencies or people telling us where they are and in that case if we do come across them, we will take steps to remove them."

Anyone found employing the men, knowing they are here illegally, could face a fine of up to 50-thousand dollars.