By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 10, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Eight members of the Eritrean national football team and the coach of the squad have disappeared in Kenya while playing in the East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) senior Challenge Cup.
According to Eritrean opposition radio and reports, the players and the team’s coach, Omer Ahmed, have absconded after the team was knocked out of the ongoing regional tournament.
There is speculation that the players will soon seek asylum in the east African country, which has been the pattern on previous occasions Eritrean national teams have disappeared from international tournaments.
This is the second time fEritrean players have sought to escape from returning to their country while in Kenya and the fourth time players have used the CECAFA tournament to do so since 2009.
In 2009, almost the whole Eritrean football team absconded in Kenya except from the coach and an official.
In 2011, thirteen players sought refuge in Tanzania after the team was eliminated from the regional tournament.
In December 2012, 17 players and the team’s doctor abscond in Kampala and sought an asylum in Uganda.
The 17 Eritrean players have recently left Uganda for the Netherlands after the European country granted them asylum about one year after they spend at Uganda’s refugee camp, Sudan Tribune understands.
Every month an average 5,000 Eritreans from all walks of life flee to neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan to escape what right groups describes as one of the world’s most repressive country.
Eritrean opposition politicians in Addis Ababa told Sudan Tribune that thousands of Eritreans have been killed by border guards while they attempt to escape to neighbouring countries.
"The Eritrean dictatorial rule has intensified the shoot-to-kill policy it placed against citizens who attempt to escape” Eritrean politician, Samson Ekbasilase, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
"Many young Eritreans are shot dead by border guards on daily basis” he said adding that "many more are caught and subjected to some of the most serious rights abuses."
If caught, while trying to escape, citizens are considered as traitors, sentenced to hefty prison terms and sometimes punished by capital punishment.
Eritrean officials deny the country has a shoot-to-kill policy targeting those fleeing.
But Ekbasilase said the desperate Eritrean government has recently deployed more security forces to the border to curb the ever increasing immigration attempts.
According to Eritrean opposition officials, hundreds of Eritreans have died during the past year while trying to make dangerous sea-crossings to Europe and Middle Eastern countries.
The reclusive Red Sea nation which has zero-tolerance for dissent is routinely accused by international rights groups of extrajudicial executions, torture, incommunicado detention and arbitrary mass arrests.
Currently there are an estimated five to ten thousand political prisoners in Eritrea languishing in the country’s secret detention facilities including in an underground prisons and shipping containers.
Eritrea has been led by President Isaias Afewerki since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
The Eritrean opposition has long been forced to operate in exile, mostly from neighbouring Ethiopia, where there are currently there are over 10 opposition groups.
The country does not have any independent media. According to press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Eritrea is Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists.
In 2009, the UN imposed sanctions against Eritrea for supporting and arming al-Qaida allied al-Shabab group in Somalia.
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