Official: Players say death awaits them in Eritrea
The 12 Eritrean national team players who defected during a tournament in Kenya last week say they cannot return home because they will be killed.
The players say they swore an oath to the Eritrean government before leaving the country that they would not defect, a senior Kenyan government official said on Wednesday. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information wasn't authorized for release.
The official said the 12 have applied for an asylum seeker's pass, the first stage in determining whether they deserve refugee status. The process could take up to three months.
The 12 failed to board a plane from Nairobi with the rest of Eritrea's squad on Saturday after having competed in the Senior Challenge Cup.
Some of the 12 players entered a government office Wednesday to apply for refugee status. They were dressed in the official Eritrean football team tracksuits, with the country's name emblazoned on the back.
Nicholas Musonye, the secretary general of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations, said this is the third time Eritrean players have gone missing in events organized by the council, with up to a dozen disappearing during a tournaments that were held in Tanzania in 2006-07.
President Isaias Afwerki, a former rebel leader, led Eritrea to independence from Ethiopia in 1993 but has since turned dictator. Strict government controls on the economy, media and religion in the nation of more than 5 million people have forced thousands to flee.