The government of Botswana has reversed its decision to grant asylum for the disgraced 10 Eritrean football players and asked to go back home or seek refuge elsewhere.
A letter wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security secretary, Segakweng Tsiane, indicates that the government believes the players have no grounds to seek “protection” in Botswana.
It also urges the refugee agency to find accommodation for the players as they would soon be evicted from the Dukwi Refugee camp located near Francistown.
Botswana’s Defense and Security Minister Shaw Kgathi had initially wanted them deported. On one local radio GabzFM, he insisted that his government is not ready to grant these runaway players asylum.
“The issue is simple: they must go back to their country. You don’t come here to play football, lose, then say you want political asylum. There are proper steps that should be followed if you want to be a refugee.”
What followed after was a series of meetings and court battles between the government and Dick Bayford, a lawyer hired to represent the players at $30,000 by EMDHR, a Pretoria based Eritrean group that facilitated the defection. After a high court in Lobatse intervened and ruled in favor of the players, the government agreed to grant them asylum. Since then, they had been kept at an illegal immigrant detention center, for weeks without a cloth to change and a soap to wash with.
But in the latest development, the government has rescinded its decision and ordered the 10 defectors to go and seek asylum elsewhere. Their lawyer said he would challenge the order in court.
The UNHCR itself said it is shocked by the decision and is still to make a move especially that they are coming hot on the heels of government’s decision to grant the players asylum.
According to their lawyer, four countries had expressed interest in giving the players asylum. But in the absence of any legal status to stay in Botswana, the UNHCR has to find any country, including arch enemy Ethiopia, that is willing to give them asylum.
Given the circumstances of their defection, probably, none of the Southern African countries would like to take them in as political refugees.