African Football – Eritrea refugee footballers emerge in Netherlands

Natives of the small African nation of Eritrea reportedly try to escape from the Red Sea state every year, with many losing their lives making perilous sea-crossings in a desperate bid to reach Europe.

Sport, however, appears to offer a more viable escape route for many of them with numerous instances of national football squad members claiming asylum after competing abroad.

In late 2012, one squad went missing after going shopping ahead of their scheduled return home to Eritrea, whose human rights record is considered to be very poor.

The BBC reported last year that Uganda had granted them asylum and, according to the AD newspaper in Holland, they hung around Kampala for a while before ending up in the riverside town east of Rotterdam by the way of Romania.

Arie van Hoven, of the local food bank, told the paper the group had a terrible journey to get there.

“They arrived with almost nothing. We’ve been looking for furniture and mattresses for them.”

Gorinchem’s mayor Anton Barske told RTL news the group are terrified that something may happen to their families and want to avoid publicity.

He said the group was invited to the Netherlands by the Dutch government when they were in Romania and had already started learning Dutch while in the eastern European country.

“They wanted to stay together as a group and that was possible here,” he said.

“They are going to integrate and need an education. Then they will be able to build a new life.”

In 2012, the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay accused the Asmara government of meting out summary executions, torture and detaining thousands of political prisoners.

18 months prior to the absconding in Uganda, 13 players from an Eritrean club side sought refuge in Tanzania. In 2009, a dozen members of the national team disappeared in Kenya.

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