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Gov’t begins asylum determination process of Eritrean footballers

The government through the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun the asylum determination process for the Eritrean footballers.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security Augustine Makgonatsotlhe who is also the chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Refugees (ACR) confirmed the development.

The ten players from the Eritrean football team are seeking asylum in the country in a development that has been described as a latest in a series of defections by athletes from a country under investigation by the United Nations (UN) for human-rights violations.

Members of the Red Sea Camels, as Eritrean football team is affectionately known in soccer circles were in this diamond rich nation of Botswana to play the last leg of a two-legged 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Little known Eritrea suffered a humiliating 1-5 defeat on aggregate at the hands of the hosts who are destined to meet with the Eagles of Mali mid next month in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers as they negotiate their way to Russia in 2018.

Ten players out of the 34-man Eritrean delegation sneaked out of their hotel rooms at Tato River Lodge (TRL) here in Francistown in the wee hours of their departure day and started searching for UNHCR offices in order to get assistance on their asylum bid.

Since there are no UNHCR offices in Francistown, information reaching this publication is that some of the ten players were found at the Red Cross offices here in Francistown. Others were combed off the dense bush by members of the Botswana Police Service (BPS) along Tati River.

“The process of facilitating the asylum sought by the ten Eritrean players begun yesterday (last Wednesday) in Francistown,” confirmed Makgonatsotlhe. The ten Eritreans are currently housed at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants.

Makgonatsotlhe added: “Officials from concerned departments are conducting interviews to determine the authenticity of their claims. The process is meant to give the asylum seekers an opportunity to fully explain their fears (of going back home).”  

He could not give a time frame as to when the process would be finished. Makgonatsotlhe said the officials would be given time and space to conduct thorough interviews in order to be fully informed.        

Dick Bayford, who has been hired by the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) to represent the players also confirmed that the asylum determination process for the ten players has begun.

Since the beginning of the process a week and half, Bayford alongside Makgonatsotlhe and his entourage have been shuttling between Gaborone and Francistown as the interviewing of the footballers is already underway.

Similar mass defections by Eritrean soccer 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.

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