Eritrean women players disappear from camp at U20 tournament in Uganda

November 3 – Five Eritrean footballers from the women’s Under-20 national team have gone missing during a regional tournament in Uganda, raising concerns that they may have defected. 

The team was camped at a hotel in Jinja for the CECAFA tournament, but they disappeared on Tuesday morning. It’s the second time in two years that Eritreans have gone missing from a CECAFA Under-20 championship in Uganda after five male players fled in 2019.

CECAFA has stated that the case has been reported to the police, who, according to local media, has commenced a search for the missing quintet.

This is the latest incident in a long list of Eritrean football players defecting when abroad with the national team. In 2009, 2013 and 2015, Eritrean players escaped or refused to return home while on international duty. Eritrea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, led by an authoritarian government.

In its 2021 World Report, Human Rights Watch’s verdict on the Eritrean government was damning again, writing that it “remains one of the world’s most repressive, subjecting its population to widespread forced labor and conscription, imposing restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion, and faith, and restricting independent scrutiny by international monitors.”

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