Five Eritrean footballers from the women’s Under-20 national team have gone missing during a regional tournament in Uganda.
The players disappeared from their hotel in Jinja on Tuesday morning.
The quintet were part of the Eritrea squad for the Cecafa Women’s Under-20 Championship, which began on Saturday and runs until 9 November in nearby Njeru.
This is the second time in two years that Eritreans have gone missing from a Cecafa Under-20 Championship in Uganda, after five male players fled their hotel in the country in 2019.
A statement from Cecafa (the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations) said the matter had been reported to police and investigations are ongoing.
An executive director of Cecafa has told BBC Sport Africa that “sufficient” measures had been taken to prevent players fleeing despite the evidence to the contrary.
Auka Gecheo added that Cecafa will work closely with the Ugandan FA (Fufa) to find the missing players.
“We have reported [it] to the authorities and given all relevant information and, together with Fufa, we will cooperate with the authorities,” said Gecheo.
“There were sufficient security measures in place, and Fufa ensured that all teams were in good hotels.
“It has happened before. Authorities are well aware of previous occurrences. We will continue to work closely with the authorities while ensuring we deliver on our mandate to deliver all-inclusive tournaments in the region.”
This incident follows a long list of Eritrean footballers escaping while on international duty abroad.
Seven men’s players went missing in Uganda in December 2019 during another Cecafa tournament.
Ten Eritrean players refused to return home from a World Cup qualifier in Botswana in 2015, while Uganda granted asylum to 15 players and a team doctor in 2013.
Back in 2009, the entire team – apart from the coach and an official – failed to return from a Cecafa tournament in Kenya.
Human rights group Amnesty International says thousands of Eritreans continue to flee the east African country while authorities violate the rights to freedom of expression, religion and freedom of movement.
The Eritrean government has dismissed these allegations in the past, and said that the reported numbers of those fleeing are fabricated.
(BBC Sport Africa, 02.11.2021)