Asylum-seeking Eritrea soccer players in detention center

A group of 10 players from Eritrea’s national soccer squad who are claiming asylum in Botswana are being held in a detention centre, and have been wearing their team kits for more than a week because they have no other clothes, their lawyers said on Friday.

The lawyers for the players said they were at a “high-security facility” in the north eastern city of Francistown, where they briefly disappeared after their team’s World Cup qualifier last week.

“There is no access to the outside world,” lawyer Dick Bayford said.

The players are in the army back home and refused to return to Eritrea, where lawyers say they could now face a court martial and treason charges.

The players handed themselves in to authorities and have been granted permission to stay in the southern African country before a court hearing in December.

The government of Eritrea, a country of about six million people on the northeast coast of Africa, has been accused by human rights groups of being among the most repressive in the world. The United Nations released a report this year alleging, among other abuses, that forced and prolonged military service is common.

The 10 players absconded following Eritrea’s 3-1 loss to Botswana on October 13, which eliminated it from World Cup qualifying. They left their possessions with teammates so as not to raise suspicion, said Joao Salbany, another lawyer representing the players.

Salbany said they were concerned with delays by Botswana authorities in providing the players with new clothes and soap to wash with.

Eritrean soccer players have previously used away games to escape their homeland.

In 2012, 17 Eritrea players and a team doctor disappeared during a tournament in Uganda and eventually applied for asylum. They were later granted asylum in the Netherlands. The entire Eritrean team sought refugee status at the same regional tournament in 2009.

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