Eighteen members of Eritrea’s national soccer team applied for political asylum in Uganda, citing fear of forced conscription and “bad governance” in their native country, the Refugee Ministry said.
The Eritreans, including 17 players and the team physician, disappeared in Uganda after failing to qualify for the final stages of a regional soccer competition. Their applications to stay in Uganda will be jointly assessed by the East African nation’s government and the United Nations refugee agency, said David Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees.
“They have approached us and they are seeking asylum,” he said by phone today from Kampala. “We are together with UNHCR looking at their issues and we shall decide in a week or two.”
Eritrea has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki, a former rebel leader, since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The Horn of Africa nation has no privately owned press and the government has arbitrarily detained thousands of people including opposition supporters and journalists over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, the London-based advocacy group.
At least four Eritreans sought asylum in the U.K. after this year’s Olympic Games, according to United Press International, the Washington-based news agency. Last year, 13 Eritrean footballers had their application for political asylum rejected by Tanzania’s government, after they refused to return home following a regional tournament in July.
Amnesty in August urged Sudan to halt the deportation of asylum seekers from Eritrea because they face detention and torture by the Eritrean authorities.
The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting to topple the government of Somalia. The government denies the allegations.
Phone calls to Eritrea’s Information Ministry in the capital, Asmara, and to the Eritrean Embassy in Kampala seeking comment weren’t answered.
To contact the reporter on this story: Fred Ojambo in Kampala via Nairobi at email@example.com.