Four Ethiopian Track Team Members Abscond in USA

Athletes seeking asylum from unstable areas have historically used athletic tournaments to leave their country
Athletes seeking asylum from unstable areas have historically used athletic tournaments to leave their country

By Wendy Owen,

FOUR members of an Ethiopian track team were reported missing Saturday morning in Eugene where they competed in the IAAF World Junior Championships.

“The individuals left campus ahead of the rest of the team,” said Julie Brown, University of Oregon spokeswoman.

The Ethiopian region is under intense political upheaval, and athletes seeking asylum from unstable areas have historically used athletic tournaments to leave their country. Asked whether that was the case for the Ethiopians, Brown said she did not know why they left and could not confirm they were seeking asylum. 

Brown said detectives are looking for the four but are not concerned for their safety. Rather, they want to make direct contact to confirm they are OK.

“At this point we don’t have reason to believe that these individuals are in harm’s way,” she said.

The University of Oregon Police Department is leading a missing persons investigation with assistance from the Eugene Police Department, and Brown said law enforcement agencies statewide have been notified.

Portland FBI Spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the agency was aware of the situation and was acting in a supporting role, without clarifying.

It is the first time the University of Oregon has hosted the IAAF World Junior Championships, which includes with athletes from 170 countries, Brown said.

The missing runners include a 17-year-old boy and three women believed to be between ages 18 to 20.

Ethiopians at the track meet declined, throughout the team doctor, to speak to a reporter from The Oregonian.

Asylum seekers are more common on the East Coast than in Oregon, Cielsielski said.

“It’s really hard to get to the U.S., and you can’t file for asylum outside the country,” she said.

As for their chances to be granted asylum, Cielsielski said it’s difficult for people from many countries, but Ethiopians and Somalis “have a pretty decent chance.”