(Reuters) – Botswana has granted asylum to a group of 10 Eritrean soccer players who sought refuge after playing in a World Cup qualifying match earlier this month, their lawyer said on Thursday.
The Eritreans refused to board their plane home on Oct. 13 after playing the match against Botswana. They then claimed asylum, becoming the latest in a series of defections by athletes from a country under investigation by the United Nations for human rights violations.
“We are grateful to the Botswana government and this decision shows its rule of law and due process are sound,” said Eyasu Hatemarian of the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Pretoria.
The movement is raising money to pay for legal fees.
The players had been kept at a detention centre for illegal immigrants in Botswana’s second city of Francistown, where the match was played.
Similar defections by Eritrean soccer players occurred in Kenya in 2009, Tanzania in 2011 and Uganda in 2012. Slavery-like practices are routine and torture widespread in Eritrea, the United Nations said after a year-long investigation.
The U.N. investigation also found that Eritrea subjected its citizens to indefinite national service and killed people who tried to flee the country. The Eritrean Foreign Ministry dismissed the report without addressing specific allegations.