Ten Eritrean soccer players seeking asylum in Botswana should be deported, Botswana’s security minister said on Thursday, a decision their lawyer said he would challenge in court.
The Eritreans refused to board their plane home on Wednesday, the latest in a series of defections by athletes from a country under investigation by the United Nations for human-rights violations.
“The issue is simple: they must go back to their country. You don’t come here to play football, lose, then say you want political asylum. There are proper steps that should be followed if you want to be a refugee,” Defense and Security Minister Shaw Kgathi told GabzFM, a local private radio station.
Eritrean officials could not be reached for comment.
Dick Bayford, a lawyer representing the players, told Reuters he would file an urgent court application on Friday to prevent the government from deporting them.
The players are being kept at a police station in Botswana’s second city of Francistown, where they played a match on Tuesday.
The Eritrean national team was in Botswana to play a World Cup qualifying match. Botswana won the game 3-1.
There is a predictable pattern behind the defection of Eritrean soccer players and that is they defect everytime they lose their games and return if they win. It was not the lose that made them to seek asylum though. Instead, it was the thought of running away after the game that made them to lose. In light of Botswana’s decision to forcefully return these runaway players, many would like to raise alarm and shade some concern for their fate if they ever returned. However, the Eritrean government’s long standing policy against involuntary repatriation of run away citizens proves otherwise. Eritrea accepts its citizens only if they are returning voluntarily. Therefore, Botswana’s attempt to forcefully deport the players back to Eritrea may not be successful.