The Tanzanian government has turned down asylum requests from thirteen players of Eritrean premiership club Red Sea.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in statement on Wednesday that the players’ asylum applications were adjudged “groundless” and that the Eritreans made unsuccessful appeal against the decision.
“The players’ applications have been rejected as they do not meet criteria for refugee status,” read the statement signed by the ministry’s Spokesperson Isaac Nantanga.
“One of the criteria is for the applicant to produce a well-founded fear of being tortured or persecuted,” Nantanga clarified.
Nantanga said the National Refugee Committee assessed grounds against which the applicants sought asylum and presented its recommendations before the Minister for Home Affairs, Shamsi Vuai Nahodha, who ruled against giving political asylum to the Eritreans.
Not contented, the Eritreans requested for reconsideration but their appeal again hit the snag as the minister on Monday dropped their petition, apparently for same reasons that the asylum claims were unfounded.
Nantanga said according to laws, the best the UN refugee agency could do was to ask for government’s permission to put the players under the agency’s protection as arrangements are being made to deport the players to a third country.
The Red Sea players had come to Tanzania to participate in the CECAFA Kagame Cup club championships.
The team was eliminated in the quarter-finals by the eventual champions Young Africans and thus was scheduled to return home aboard Kenya Airways on July 9th, however, more than half of its players failed to return home, rather, they surrendered to the Ministry of Home Affairs, requesting to be given asylum in the country.
It has been a common tactic followed by the Eritrea’s players to abdicate their citizenships in a bid to escape from the trouble-torn land, seeking refuge in foreign countries.
In 2006, four members of Red Sea FC disappeared in Kenya after playing an African Champions League match, while six national football team players requested political asylum in Angola after a match a year later.
But the most damaging disappearances – from the Eritrean government’s perspective – occurred in 2009, when a dozen members of the national football team went missing during a tournament in Nairobi.
After spending eight months in hiding in a refugee camp in Kenya, under the protection of UNHCR, they were granted asylum in Australia and have resumed their football careers there. Eritrea has not fielded a national team since they left.