Women’s soccer players from Eritrea are still in hiding after fleeing Uganda

Women’s soccer players from Eritrea are still in hiding after fleeing Uganda

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Five members of Eritrea’s U20 women’s team who fled a tournament in Uganda last year are in hiding, the Guardian knows.

According to sources close to the player, the five – Luwam Solomon, Yordanos Abraham, Shamat Futsum, Rahel Michael and Trhas Habate, who are aged between 16 and 19 – are “safe and doing well” after fleeing hours before their game against the hosts Cecafa U20 Women’s Championship on November 2nd. It is estimated that more than 60 players have used their international status to escape the oppressive regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki since 2009, although this was the first case involving female players.

Related: Eritrean footballers on the run have to wait anxiously for a safe haven

It is understood that the Uganda Football Association (Fufa) was initially involved in the investigation into the footballers’ disappearance, but its spokesman Ahmed Hussein confirmed that “this matter has been handed over to the Ugandan police and is outside our jurisdiction” without specifying what Fufa’s role in the investigation was.

Cecafa chief executive Auka Gecheo said: “As organizers of the tournament, we have informed the authorities of the disappearance of the players and have offered any relevant cooperation requested by the investigating authorities.” When asked if Cecafa, aware of previous defections, was Eritrean Footballers at regional tournaments have taken specific measures to prevent further disappearances, he said that “the authorities have been informed about the tournament and the participating teams. There was also security in all the hotels where the teams were staying.”

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was not possible to comment on individual cases.

This month, a United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea released a report criticizing the deteriorating situation in the country, citing forced military conscription, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture among abuses recorded. It said children as young as 14 were being recruited to fight in the conflict with Ethiopia and the human rights situation in Eritrea continues to drive thousands to flee to other countries to seek asylum.

“I remain deeply concerned about the situation of hundreds of Eritreans who have disappeared and have been arbitrarily detained in secret prisons in violation of human rights standards,” Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker wrote in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

At the end of March, Eritrea met Botswana in the preliminary round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying. But three weeks before the planned first leg, they withdrew without giving a reason. It meant Eritrea’s men have not played a senior game since a friendly against Sudan in January 2020 and it has been almost three years since their last competitive game – against Namibia in a World Cup qualifier in September 2019.

Robel Teklemichael has excelled for Ethiopian Coffee since becoming just the second Eritrean footballer to cross the border since war broke out in 1998, but there is little prospect of his former Under-20 teammates Hanibal Tekle, Mewael Yosief, Simon Asmelash and Hermon Yohannes will join him soon. They are still hiding in Uganda almost three years after fleeing during the U20 Cecafa Cup. They have received support from UNHCR but have not yet received any news of resettlement to a new country.

“At this point, it’s essentially in the hands of UNHCR,” said Kimberley Motley, an American attorney who worked on her case.

Another seven senior internationals – Abel Okbay Kilo, Eyoba Girmay, Yosief Mebrahtu, Filmon Serere, Robel Kidane, Abraham and Ismail Jahar, who have disappeared after helping Eritrea reach the Cecafa Cup final for the first time in December 2019 – hope for positive feedback News after an interview with the Norwegian Refugee Council at the end of April.

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