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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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A Candid Conversation With Olamide & Fireboy DML

We talk to the Nigerian stars about the hardest lessons they've learned, best advice they've ever been given and what Nigeria means to them.

Olamide and Fireboy DML have been working together for three years, but the first time they sit down to do an interview together is hours after they arrive in New York City on a promo tour.

It's Fireboy's first time in the Big Apple β€” and in the US β€” and the rain that's pouring outside his hotel doesn't hinder his gratitude. "It's such a relief to be here, it's long overdue," he tells OkayAfrica. "I was supposed to be here last year, but Covid stopped that. This is a time to reflect and refresh. It's a reset button for me."

Olamide looks on, smiling assuredly. Since signing Fireboy to his YBNL Nation label in 2018, he's watched the soulful young singer rise to become one of Nigeria's most talked-about artists β€” from his breakout single, "Jealous," to his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, hit collabs with D.Smoke and Cuppy, and his sophomore release, Apollo, last year.

Even while he shares his own latest record, UY Scuti, with the world, Olamide nurtures Fireboy's career with as much care and attention as he does his own, oscillating between his two roles of artist and label exec seamlessly. His 2020 album Carpe Diem is the most streamed album ever by an African rap artist, according to Audiomack, hitting over 140 million streams. When Olamide signed a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, in February last year he did so through his label, bringing Fireboy and any other artist he decides to sign along for the ride, and establishing one of the most noteworthy deals on the continent.

Below, Olamide & Fireboy DML speak to OkayAfrica about their mutual admiration for each other, what makes them get up in the morning and how they switch off.

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