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Five Members of the Eritrean Under-20 National Football Team Have Disappeared In Uganda

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Ugandan media and the international press are reporting that five members of the Eritrean under-20 Football Team have disappeared from their hotel in Jinja, Uganda. The players were in Uganda to participate in the Cecafa U-20 Challenge Cup currently in progress.

This is not the first time for Eritrean football players to have absconded during an international tournament. In October 2015, 10 players refused to return home to Eritrea and successfully claimed asylum in Botswana following intervention by the EMDHR. In 2013, 15 players and the team doctor obtained asylum in Uganda and in 2009, the entire football team absconded following a tournament in Kenya.

Eritrea is a giant open prison ruled by fear, not by law. It has no constitution, no parliament, no judiciary, and all forms of freedoms and rights are either banned or severely restricted. Citizens are often arbitrarily arrested, disappeared, tortured, and even extra-judicially executed. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea confirmed in 2016 that there is a “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations” which amounts to crimes against humanity in the country.

The Eritrean youth are at the receiving end of the regime’s ruthlessness and brutality. The youth are wasting their potential and talents in forced and indefinite national service, with conscripts usually going into the military. Eritrea has become a country where even high school students are taken into a military training camp and forced labour programs. As a result of these appalling conditions, Eritrean youth are fleeing en masse, seeking refuge in exile where they are granted asylum and hope to reconstruct their lives.

The peace agreement which was signed between the Eritrean regime and Ethiopian government in July 2018 has had no bearing on the level of repression the Eritrean regime continues to inflict upon its citizens. National Service is still indefinite and the grade 12 matriculation year is still undertaken at the harsh Sawa military camp. This is one of the major driving forces behind the youth fleeing the country in droves.

The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights is very concerned for the safety and welfare of the five disappeared teenage players. Forcibly returning the players to Eritrea would endanger their lives. Therefore we ask for:

● The Ugandan government to give the players all necessary protection during their stay in Uganda;

● The UNHCR to expedite their swift resettlement to a safe third country;

● For countries to come forward to take the young players so that they can get the protection they deserve and start a new life, free from repression and servitude.

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

October 2, 2019

Pretoria, South Africa

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