Human rights lawyer Dick Bayford on Friday night won a temporary relief for the ten Eritrea national team players to be allowed to stay in the country while awaiting processing of their application for asylum in Botswana. After a lengthy discussion in Chambers at the Lobatse High court, lawyers representing the parties-Bayford and Nchunga Nchunga for the state-emerged to announce that they had reached an agreement, which was made a consent order, that the players will not be deported and shall remain in the custody of Botswana in the interim.
The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, which is registered in South Africa, has instructed Bayford and Associates to represent the 10 players, after they refused to return home after playing against the Zebras in a 2018 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night. There are reports that Eritrea is piling pressure on Botswana to repatriate the ten players, all of whom are members of the Eritrean army.
The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights said: “The decision to deport the asylum seekers without hearing is an affront not only Eritreans, but humanity as a whole. Such harm is irreparable. Botswana has international obligations not only under law but as a country that values the rule of law. To ignore the humanitarian crisis in Eritrea and the human rights abuses in that country would undermine public and international confidence in Botswana. The irreparable harms could not be greater.”
In a letter to the Office of the President on Thursday Bayford wrote: “As required by the Refugees Recognition and Control Act 25:01, Laws of Botswana, the said individuals have to be processed by a Committee established under section 5 (1) (a) of the Act for purposes of considering their application. Their removal from Botswana would in the circumstances be illegal. Our Client is informed that there are plans by the Botswana Government to forcibly remove the said individuals from the country, circumventing, as it were the process. Kindly give us your assurance by 13h00 today that the said individuals would not be removed to allow for the process under the Act to be effected".
On Wednesday morning Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi said on a radio show:"It's simple. They must go back home. You don't come to a country to play football, lose and then say you want political asylum, no! There are proper steps to take and they can do that from their home country." However Kgathi toned down the following day on national television saying they will give the asylum seekers an opportunity to be heard.
The matter will be heard on 11 December 2015.