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The Five Eritrean Players Who Disappeared Before Football Tournament Semi Finals Are in Hiding

The five players who are a part of the Eritrean under-20 team say they are living in 'great fear and danger'.

UPDATE 10/31: The five soccer players from Eritrea's under-20 team, who disappeared from their hotel before the semi-finals of the regional Cecafa Under-20 Challenge Cup tournament, have told the BBC that they are currently in hiding and living in fear of their collective safety. Hermon Fessehaye Yohannes, Mewael Tesfai Yosief, Simon Asmelash Mekonen, Deyben Gbtsawi Hintseab and Girmay Hanibal, are afraid to return to Eritrea amid reports that they will receive "serious punishments" after their team lost to Kenya in the semi-finals of the tournament held in Uganda at the beginning of this month.


The players have issued a plea to the public saying, "We need to be safe, so anyone who cares about us, I want to say to them please help and get us out of this country." They also added that, "We are changing houses week after week, we are living underground."

This is not the first (or the last) time that Eritrean soccer players have fled while participating in an international tournament. Thousands of Eritreans continue to flee the country as a result of human rights abuses and what has been declared compulsory service in the national defense force for an indefinite amount of time. Kimberly Motley, the American lawyer currently representing the players has said that they have applied for asylum and are awaiting a response from the UN refugee agency.

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The Eritrean u-20 team lost their semi-final match against Kenya today. No surprise there, as they were playing minus their top goalkeeper Girmay Hanibal and four other players who disappeared from the team hotel earlier in the week. The missing players are reportedly seeking asylum in Uganda, this year's host country for the Cecafa tournament.

According to the BBC, when the players did not show up to train on Tuesday, the Eritrean coach Haile Efrem Alemseghed told officials they "were sick." According to the Ugandan Daily Monitor, the five players are Hermon Fessehaye Yohannes, Mewael Tesfai Yosief, Simon Asmelash Mekonen, Deyben Gbtsawi Hintseab and Hanibal.

Thousands of Eritreans have fled the country in recent years, attempting to flee human rights abuses and compulsory and indefinite national defense service. Eritrea has also just been announced to be the world's most censored country by the Committee to Protect Journalists, topping North Korea.

This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, the Daily Monitor reports that the Eritrean government requires athletes competing abroad to put up several thousand pounds before leaving the country in order to guarantee they come back. But, apparently, the payment tactic doesn't always work as both the BBC and Daily Monitor point out multiple instances of absconsion. Ten declined to return home from a World Cup qualifying match in 2015. In 2013, nine players and the coach disappeared in Kenya. In two different instances in 2010 and 2011, 13 Eritrean players disappeared while playing in Tanzania–many were later granted refugee status and asylum in the US and UK. 2009 saw the entire Eritrean national team defect and seek asylum in Kenya.

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Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

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