Twelve players from Eritrea's national football team have sought asylum in Kenya through the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. The players were reported missing following a regional football tournament on Kenyan soil.
The local Kenyan newspaper The Standard reported today that the Kenyan branch of UNHCR granted the players temporary asylum and directed them to the government ministry of immigration for processing.
The spokesman for the Kenya police, Eric Karaithe, confirmed that the players arrived at the Nairobi UNHCR office following their disappearance.
"We are not commenting for the time being," he said. "They have sought asylum and that's about all. But certainly they produced themselves and they went to the UNHCR."
The Kenyan police were contacted by the team's organizer after only 13 out of the 25 players and coaches appeared for the departure flight after the tournament ended on Sunday.
According to a U.N. report, as of September this year, Sudan has taken in 185,000 refugees from Eritrea. UNHCR says that about 1,800 Eritreans per month have been fleeing across the border into Sudan since February 2008. Ethiopia hosts over 30,000 refugees from the Horn of African nation.
Eritrea is ruled by President Isaias Afewerki, a former guerrilla leader who is now known for his totalitarian regime's oppressive policies and heavy crackdowns on dissent. The country of only 4 million has more journalists in prison than any other African nation, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
The country is also currently suffering from significant food shortage due in part to a widespread drought across the Horn of Africa and East Africa region.
Eritrea received its independence in 1993 after a long war against the Ethiopian government.
A report from the Financial Times indicates that the 12 players who have defected include the entire starting line-up of 11 players.