Authorities in Uganda are searching for five Eritreans who disappeared from a hotel where their team was playing in a soccer tournament.
The missing players could be planning to seek asylum, which some Eritrean sports players have done in the past while traveling abroad. Tens of thousands of Eritreans flee their small Horn of Africa country every year, citing political repression and lengthy military conscription.
Officials from the U.N. refugee agency in Uganda and the prime minister’s office told Reuters they had not received asylum requests from the five players.
“The search is going on, we notified security, they are trying to trace them.”
The five men disappeared from their hotel in the eastern town of Jinja on Sunday after playing a match in the quarter finals of a three-week regional tournament.
“The search is going on, we notified security, they are trying to trace them,” Rogers Mulindwa, spokesman for Council of East and Central Africa Football Association, which organised the tournament, told Reuters on Thursday.
Mulindwa said they had intensified security measures around the 13 remaining Eritrean team members to prevent more players from disappearing.
In 2012, 14 members of the Eritrea soccer squad disappeared while playing in the same tournament in Uganda. The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it did not have an immediate answer on whether those players had applied for asylum in Uganda or moved to another country.
The United Nations says Eritrea is the world’s ninth largest source of refugees, with at least 507,300 refugees registered at the end of 2018.
In August, international rights group Human Rights Watch said Eritrea was still forcing thousands of students and teachers into indefinite national service, frustrating hopes that last year’s peace deal with former archenemy Ethiopia might lead to scaled back conscription.