- 15 Oct 2015 01:20
GABORONE: Ten players from the Eritrean football team are seeking asylum in Botswana, the latest in a series of defections by athletes from a country under investigation by the United Nations for human-rights violations.
The Eritrean national team was in Botswana to play a World Cup qualifying match. The players refused to board their plane home on Wednesday and were detained by police, Dick Bayford, who has been hired by the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) to represent the players, told Reuters.
“I have been engaged by the movement to assist in keeping the football players in the country after they received reports that there was an attempt to forcibly remove the players from Botswana,” he said.
Similar mass defections by Eritrean football players occurred in Kenya in 2009, Tanzania in 2011 and Uganda in 2012. They were fleeing a country where slavery-like practices are routine and torture widespread, the United Nations said after a year-long investigation.
The investigation also found that Eritrea subjected its citizens to indefinite national service and killed people who try to flee the country, according to a U.N. report. The Eritrean Foreign Ministry dismissed the report without addressing specific allegations.
That investigation has now been extended for a second year. The U.N. Human Rights Council wants the extended investigation to consider whether Eritrea was committing crimes against humanity, a level of offence that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
Bayford said the EMDHR was worried that the players, who are said to be part of the Eritrean army, are likely to be charged with desertion if they are sent back to Eritrea, which is punishable by death.
He said the players were being kept at a police station in Botswana’s second city of Francistown, where the match was held on Tuesday. Botswana won the game 3-1 and advanced to the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment in either country. The rest of the 24-man delegation went back to Eritrea on Wednesday morning.
Another media reported recently that after an intervention by Botswana Football Association Officials, 10 players from the visiting Eritrea National team agreed to board the bus enroute to Gaborone where they’ll board a 18:20 flight to Johannesburg.
The team missed the morning flight due to stand off as some players showed their desire to remain in the country.
Eritrea has a history of absconding whenever they are on national duty. In 2012 17 players and a team doctor were reported to have absconded in Uganda.
Only 12 players returned from a shopping trip.
In 2010 after the CECAFA tournament in Tanzania 13 players from Eritrea team disappeared only to reappear in Houston Texas under refugee resettlement programme in the United States.