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Eritrea Football Players Still In Hiding

23/06/22

- Grant Whittington

The five players of Eritrea’s U-20 women’s team that made their escape following a tournament in Uganda in Nov. 2021, remain in hiding.  

Sources reportedly close to the players have confirmed that the players are in a place of safety and doing as well as can be expected. The players are Yordanos Abraham, Shamat Futsum, Trhas Habate, Rahel Michael, and Luwam Solomon. All five footballers are aged between 16 and 19.

First For Female Athletes  

It is now estimated that at least 60 players have used their “internationals” status to flee from the tyrannical regime of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki. The case involving the players is however thought to be the first involving female athletes.

The initial understanding had been that the Uganda Football Association (Fufa) had been involved in the investigation. But according to Fufa spokesperson Ahmed Hussain, the matter was referred to Ugandan police authorities, and as such, no longer falls under the jurisdiction of the football governing body.

According to CECAFA, local authorities were immediately informed of the disappearance of the group. All the relevant cooperation had been offered at the time, confirmed CECAFA executive director Auka Gecheo. When asked whether measures had been put into place to avoid future disappearances, Gecheo responded by saying that additional security had been enforced at all the hotels where teams were being accommodated.

UN Issues Damning Report  

According to a United Nations spokesperson, no comments would be forthcoming regarding individual cases.

Earlier this month, the UN issued a special report on the violation of human rights in Eritrea. The report focused on several issues, including forced military enrolment, random arrests without cause, missing people, and even torture.

The report also confirmed that children as young as 14 had been recruited to fight by groups with links to government. This situation is causing thousands to flee to neighbouring countries for possible asylum.

Eritrea Falls Further Behind

In March this year, Eritrea had been scheduled to face Botswana in the qualifying rounds for the Africa Cup of Nations. They however withdrew three weeks before the match, and without any reason provided.

This means Eritrea’s men’s national side have not competed in a senior contest since January 2020.

Seven more senior international players, who went into hiding in December 2019 following Eritrea’s qualification for the CECAFA Cup final, are now awaiting an outcome by the Norwegian Refugee Council regarding asylum. They include Filmon Serere, Abel Okbay Kilo, and Yosief Mebrahtu.

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