12 Eritrean footballers granted asylum

By Cyrus Ombati

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has granted the 12 members of the Eritrean national soccer team asylum.

They were granted passes to allow them stay in Kenya as UNHCR works on their cases.

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The players were interviewed by the Ministry of Immigration officials on Wednesday night and later granted asylum after being cleared by UNHCR.

After being given the stickers, which will last for three months, they were escorted to an undisclosed place in the city.

"They are under the UNHCR and cannot be arrested," said an official at the UNHCR offices who sought anonymity.

Swore affidavits

The players are said to have displayed affidavits they swore before departing Asmara, saying they would not go back because of harassment in their country.

There was drama at the immigration offices as the players roughed up journalists who had camped there awaiting their arrival.

They later apologised saying they thought the journalists were police planning to arrest them.

The players resurfaced at the UNHCR offices in Nairobi days after they went missing to seek asylum status.

They arrived at the UNHCR offices in Westlands, Nairobi, in a hired car and went into a meeting with officials before being referred to the refugee offices at the Ministry of Immigration headquarters at Nyayo House, where their case was heard.

They made up nearly half the 25 players and coaches Eritrea sent to the soccer tournament for nations from East and central Africa.

Team organiser Nicholas Musonye alerted police when only 13 team members departed after the tournament ended on Sunday.

Police said they launched investigation and learnt none of the 12 players had a visa to remain in Kenya.

Eritrean footballers asylum United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR