Ten Eritrean footballers seek asylum in Botswana

It has been reported that ten Eritrean footballers are seeking political asylum in Botswana after a World Cup qualifying match that took place between Eritrea and Botswana on 10 October.

According to the Sunday Standard, “[s]ources from within the Eritrean diplomatic service have revealed that Eritrea is piling pressure on Botswana to have the ten players repatriated” with concerns being expressed by the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) that plans to repatriate are under way.

In response, the EMDHR has hired lawyer Dick Bayford to represent the ten players. Mr. Bayford is seeking assurance from the Botswanan police that the players will not be deported and if no assurance is given, then “he will approach the courts with an urgent application”. According to the Guardian, he announced: “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”. Mr Bayford is arguing that the players might face charges of desertion and treason if they return because they are part of the Eritrean army. This offence is punishable by death.

This instance of an Eritrean national team seeking asylum is by no means unique. There have been at least six similar cases, in the last seven years alone, of Eritrean athletes seeking asylum in countries in which they were competing. In 2008, the UK granted asylum to six national athletics team members. The following year, 12 footballers sought asylum in Kenya and in 2011 the whole team did the same, also in Kenya. Other footballers tried to stay in Tanzania and Uganda in 2012, and a year later, six footballers attempted to stay in Angola.

The reasons that Eritrean athletes seek asylum are two-fold. The first concerns the various problems in Eritrea, which include political repression, poverty, human rights violations and a national service that is tantamount to slavery. These factors push thousands of Eritreans to leave their country each month. The second aspect involved in Eritrean athletes’ motives can be explained by the facilitation theory, which states that a migrant will seize opportunities presented to him. In this case, the opportunity was leaving Eritrea safely and finding themselves in a more stable country. For many Eritreans, the possibility of leaving Eritrea legally is rare due to national service which restricts conscripts’ movements. Illegal travel out of Eritrea is possible but very dangerous due to shoot-to-kill policies at borders and possibly serious consequences if an Eritrean is caught, such as imprisonment and torture.

For the Sunday Standard article, please click here.

For the Guardian article, please click here.

Source: European External Policy Advisors.