Eritrean footballers seek asylum in Botswana

Eritrea’s 10 football players ask for asylum in Botswana, where they played for World Cup qualifiers

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki speaks at the UN General Assembly, 2011

10 members of Eritrean national football team rejected turning back to their countries on Wednesday morning and asked for asylum in Botswana.

The footballers were in the South African country for a preliminary game on Tuesday, which they lost 3-1.

Dick Bayford, the representative of the players from the South Africa based NGO Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) said that “about 10 football players from the country declined to board a plane home... stating that they needed political asylum."

The players are detained by the police after rejecting to board the plane. The rest of the 24 men turned back to their country.

Bayford said the EMDHR was worried that the players, who are said to be part of the Eritrean army, might face a desertion charge, which is punishable by death.

Adane Ghebremestel from the organization said they are asking authorities to stop deporting athletes.

He said "most of the players (who seek asylum) are from the Eritrean Army”, adding that they face treason charges.

A UN report released on June 8 this year says there are “great human rights violations in Eritrea.”

The report keeps the government of Eritrea “responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” including a large proportion of the population being subjected to “forced labour and imprisonment.”

“Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity,” the report says.

The Eritrean government, which is ruled by the only party in the country since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, rejected the report.

There are other asylum claims by Eritrean athletes in its history. Some mass asylum demands by its footballers came in Kenya in 2009, Tanzania in 2011 and Uganda in 2012.

Eritreans also come third among refugees trying to reach Europe, after Syrians and Afghans.

TRTWorld and agencies