LONDON - Thousands of Olympians have returned to their homelands after the successful conclusion of the 2012 London Games, but more than a dozen African competitors have not yet returned and their whereabouts are still not known.
Even before the closing ceremony, some athletes from impoverished or conflict-ridden nations including Cameroon, Eritrea, Guinea and the Ivory Coast had been reported missing from the athletes’ village.
The London Games are not the first time such reports have surfaced. There is a well-established pattern of sportsmen trying to use international competitions in foreign countries as springboards to a better life. Athletes attending the London Olympics have the legal right to stay in Britain until November under the terms of their visas, but one of them has already declared that he intends to seek political asylum in Britain.
“I still very much love my country and it’s the harsh conditions and lack of basic human rights which has compelled me to seek asylum,” Eritrean steeplechase runner Weynay Ghebresilasie (18) told The Guardian newspaper in a recent interview.
Ghebresilasie, who finished 10th in his first-round heat and did not advance, told the paper that he has become disillusioned with the worsening political conditions in his homeland and he said he’s not alone. Three of his fellow Eritrean teammates, out of a delegation of only 12 athletes, have also sought asylum but are reluctant to go public because they fear their families may get into trouble back home.
Eritrea was among the top ten countries of origin for people seeking asylum in the U.K last year, along with Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iran, according to the London-based charity Refugee Council.
According to African media, other missing athletes include three from Guinea, as well as judo competitor Cedric Mandembo and three others from the Democratic Republic of Congo. – Nampa/AP