Almost the entire Eritrean national football squad has been missing in Uganda  since Sunday, after the team was eliminated at the ongoing East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) senior Challenge Cup.
According to reports, seventeen players and the team's doctor have disappeared in Ugandan capital, Kampala, leaving behind the head coach, Teklit Negash, two of his assistants and four other members of the team. One of the missing footballer on condition of anonymity confirmed to Radio France Internationale (RFI) that the squad is hiding some where in Kampala. "Everybody has to stay in secure places because the Eritrean government is searching for us," he said adding "the Eritrean embassy in Uganda is trying to find us".
He added that the group is planning to make an asylum request on Thursday. This is a third time that the Eritrean national team has chosen to claim asylum in an African nation when playing outside the Horn of Africa nation.
In July last year, 13 Eritrean football players sought asylum in Tanzania after a 2011 tournament, while 12 members of the national team similarly disappeared in Kenya and sought asylum there during a regional tournament in 2009. Four Eritrean athletes sought political asylum in Britain after the London Olympics this summer.
The Ethiopia-based Eritrean opposition group, Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) on Tuesday said that the latest defection of the Eritrean football team shows the level political oppression in Eritrea, as well as the nations worsening economic and social crises. "The decision the players made in Uganda indicates how further the dictatorial regime in Asmara has lost the trust by the Eritrean people''
RSADO official, Nessredin Ahmed Ali told Sudan Tribune. "We believe the players have sent a clear message to their people at home saying the time is now for all Eritreans to unite against President Issayas Afeworki's regime and bring about democratic transition". RSADO is a member of a larger opposition umbrella organization, the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), a collation of 10 Eritrean opposition groups.
The opposition official said that the Eritrean government is the most brutal rule in the world and what happened in Uganda is a clear reflection to growing protests at home against government. “Where else on earth would you see a whole national soccer team defecting as such and repeatedly?” he added. Human rights groups have repeatedly labeled the Red Sea nation one of the world's most repressive regimes and worst violator of human rights.
In the past few years, tens of thousands of Eritreans have fled to Ethiopia to escape the government's compulsory military service, arrests, killings and intimidation. Hundreds of members of the Eritrean Army have also fled and continue to flee to neighbouring countries mostly to Ethiopia. Dozens of members of the Eritrean Navy also fled the country this year, using their speed boats to cross the Red Sea to Yemen.
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
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