Ten Eritrean football player who arrived in Botswana with the national Eritrean team to play in the African qualifying matches for World Cup 2018, have absconded and sought political asylum in Botswana.
The Eritrean football team, “The Red Sea Camels,” had lost 3 to 1 against Botswana in Tuesday’s match.
The team is made up of players from the Diaspora as well as Eritreans still under the national service regime that is applicable to all Eritreans ages 18-40 for indefinite periods, sometimes extending over ten years. The Diaspora players have indicated their willingness to return home, though they do not live in Eritrea and carry foreign citizenship.
Most Eritreans who find an excuse to travel overseas usually prefer to remain behind to avoid the repressive situation at home. Travelling outside Eritrea is very strict, particularly for the youth, who escape out of the country braving the border areas where guards operate on shoot-to-kill orders.
The Eritrean delegation was composed of 24 people, including administrators.
Botswanan police have detained the ten players while a lawyer hired by EMHDR, an Eritrean group based in South Africa, is trying to protect the players from being forcefully returned to Eritrea. According to a source from Kenya, “the Eritrean government has deployed its diploamts in the region to pressure or influnce the Botswanan authorties to deport the players to Eritrea.”
Eritrean sports has been marred by defection of athletes for years starting with the defection of six athletes in Edinburgh in 2008. In 2009, a dozen athletes defected to Kenya, followed by a defection of an entire team in Uganda in 2011. In 2012, there was yet another defection of an Eritrean team in Tanzania. In 2013, half of the Eritrean team defected in Angloa.
The Eritrean team was composed of the following players:
- Haylegiorgis Gebregzabiher
- Arefaine Gebrezgabiher
- Berhe Golom
- Russom Andeberhan
- Tium Muruts
- Henok Goitom
- Kidane Abrehe
While the names of the substitutes are:
- Hadish Sium
- Solomon Weldezgi
- Abraham Tewelde
- Kibrom Tsegay
- Beyene Zegeye
- Hailemichael Gebremichael
- Abrehe haile