Eritrean players scared to go home

Bayford has appealed to the authorities not to deport the footballers
Bayford has appealed to the authorities not to deport the footballers

A prominent lawyer, Dick Bayford, has moved swiftly to block authorities’ attempts to force out of Botswana, 10 Eritrean football players who are seeking political asylum.

Bayford told this publication that the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, a non-profit organisation based in Pretoria, has engaged his law firm to help keep their countrymen in Botswana because they seek political asylum.

“Our client told us that about 10 football players from the country declined to board a plane home this morning stating that they needed political asylum, they were then taken into custody for interviewing,” he said.

Bayford said he wrote a letter to the station commander for Kutlwano Police Station and copied it to the Office of the President in which he brought to their attention the provision of the law.

He explained that once someone has presented himself or herself for refugee status, their application had to be brought before a committee.

He argued that before determination, it was illegal to deport them from the country. Bayford said his clients were concerned, since they had received information that there were plans to deport the players without hearing them first. He said the letter was meant to seek assurance that the footballers would not be deported.

Dr Abane Ghebremestel of Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights said they are calling on the civil society and others,  to help them stop the authorities from deporting the players as their lives are endangered.

“Most of the players are from the Eritrean Army, and the fact that they did not leave with the others who were mostly recruited from outside the country will lead to them being charged with treason and they can end up being killed or imprisoned,” said Ghebremestel who is based in Pretoria.

According to Human Rights Watch, Eritrea's dismal human rights situation, exacerbated by indefinite military conscription, has led thousands of Eritreans to flee their country every month.

The country has had no functional legislature, independent press, or any semblance of civil society organisations since 2001. Common abuses include torture, degrading treatment in detention, restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, and repression of religious freedom.

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