November 5, 2015 / 2:11 PM / 4 years ago

REFILE-Botswana asks UNHCR to resettle Eritrean soccer players

(Refiles to fix reference to country in lead)

GABORONE, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Botswana wants 10 Eritrean soccer players it granted asylum to to be resettled in another country by the United Nations, as under Bostwana’s law they must stay in a refugee camp for 10 years.

A government official said the southern African nation was not withdrawing asylum for the players but giving them a chance to seek refuge in a country where the resettlement process was faster.

The players claimed asylum on Oct. 13 after playing the match against Botswana, becoming the latest in a series of defections by athletes from a country under investigation by the United Nations for human rights violations.

“We are not saying we don’t want them here,” Botswana’s deputy permanent secretary in the ministry of defence, justice and security, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, told Reuters.

“They certainly cannot go back to Eritrea and the law here requires a refugee to have stayed here for at least 10 years for them to be integrated into the society. The only option is for the UNHCR to seek an alternative host country.”

Makgonatsotlhe said the players could apply to get out of the camp as long as they could sustain themselves, but ordinarily most refugees who have no hope of securing employment are not allowed to leave the camps.

Angolan refugees who fled years of civil war that ended in 2003 have been stuck at the camps for years, the official said.

Pretoria based UNHCR spokeswoman Tina Ghelli said the players had three options: voluntary repatriation to their home country; receiving alternative status, such as citizenship or permanent residence, or resettlement to a third country.

Ghelli said the decision to refer these refugees to a resettlement country would be based on individual assessments of the player’s cases and whether they meet specific criteria.

Botswana did not set a deadline for the UNHCR to respond, she said.

The soccer players are being housed in the Dukwi refugee camp about 500 km (310 miles) east of the capital, Gaborone. (Writing by Peroshni Govender; Editing by James Macharia and Alison Williams)

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