Five footballers from Eritrea’s national side have gone missing in Uganda during a regional tournament, an official said Thursday, raising suspicion they may be trying to seek asylum.
Eritrea, which has been blocked from African football competitions in the past because players would often flee while abroad, is considered among the most repressive countries on earth.
The five players have been missing since Sunday, an official from the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) said.
“Efforts are being made to trace their whereabouts,” CECAFA’s Rogers Mulindwa told AFP.
Police have been roped into the search effort around Jinja, in eastern Uganda, where the players were last seen, he said, adding that the other members of the squad have been accounted for.
He declined to say whether the players had disappeared to seek asylum.
Eritrea have been accepted back into the Cecafa in May after a six year ban due to tensions with Ethiopia.
But they had been barred from other continental tournaments in the past because their players keep fleeing.
Eritreans are one of the world’s largest group of refugees, fleeing a repressive nation which restricts foreign travel and forces its citizens into indefinite military service.
In 2015 Botswana granted asylum to 10 Eritrean footballers who had refused to return home after a match against the national team.
In 2012, 18 Eritrean players claimed asylum in Uganda after a match there. Another six fled while in Angola in 2007 and 12 more did the same in Kenya in 2009.