Eritrea is a tragic country in a tragic continent. Created out of Ethiopia after years of conflict, the nation of four million is one of the most repressive in Africa. Now the soccer team has defected. The whole soccer tesm.
Eritrea’s entire national soccer team is seeking asylum in Kenya, joining tens of thousands of compatriots who have fled one of Africa’s most repressive governments.
The team absconded after traveling to Nairobi for a regional tournament. Eritrea, with only about 4 million people, was the second-biggest source of asylum seekers in the world last year, and the missing players are probably the highest-profile defectors since the country won independence in 1993.
The 11 players and one substitute were reported missing over the weekend when the team plane returned to Eritrea without them after a match against Tanzania.
After going into hiding, the players contacted the U.N. refugee agency in Nairobi, which directed them to file asylum applications at Kenya’s Immigration Ministry.
Nicholas Musonye, a Kenyan soccer official who first alerted the authorities to the missing players, said: “I have been informed by the tour guide who was with them that they are in Nairobi and have been seeking political asylum.”
The number of Eritrean asylum seekers worldwide last year was second only to the total from Zimbabwe, according to the United Nations.
People are fleeing a combination of political repression, food shortages, open-ended military service and a moribund economy.
This may be a record. For years individuals and groups defected from the Soviet Union, Cuba, Eastern Europe, and other communist “people’s paradises.” But an entire team!?
Perhaps the army will next defect. Then the Eritrean people could be free.
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