They are called Bilal Ahmed Hassan, Nasradine Abdi Aptidon and Omar Elmi Aboubaker. These three Djiboutian footballers have been in France since September 3 after defecting during a stopover at Orly airport by the plane that was to take the national team to Morocco.
The evening before, in the Algerian city of Blida, the Sharks of the Red Sea lost 8-0 to the Fennecs, reigning African champions, on the first day of the second round of qualifying for the Cup. world 2022. And the selection was to join Rabat, Morocco, to face Niger on September 6, its Djibouti stadium not having been approved by the African Football Confederation (CAF) to host international matches.
But at Orly, the three players did not get back on the plane. “ They had nothing premeditated before the match in Algeria. It was during the trip, when they learned that they would stop over in France, that they decided to stay there. They were afraid of being the target of reprisals by local authorities because of the scale of the defeat “, reports Jean-Loup Schaal, president of the Association for the Respect of Human Rights in Djibouti (ARDHD).
The rest of the team returned after the match against Niger, which also ended with a defeat for the Djiboutians (2-4). Officially, no player has been worried once back home. But the three internationals put forward several explanations to justify their fears and their decision to stay.
Omar Elmi Aboubaker, a 29-year-old midfielder, plays for the Republican Guard club. As such, he affirms to World Africa to have “Already had to undergo threats and pressures after a defeat of the selection”. It evokes “Insults, beatings and confinements of several days, with only water and very little food, forced night marches, because you did not honor the flag or in case of defeat of the club of the Republican Guard ”.
But the debacle against Algeria would not be the only reason, according to Jean-Loup Schaal, who mentions “The authoritarian drift of the Djiboutian regime, which does not accept any form of criticism”. Omar Elmi Aboubaker has already been exposed to it, in his own way, as a member of the National Guard. He reports that he was forced to make arrests in the middle of the night, including his own cousins, and more generally people “Having just given an opinion on the regime on Facebook, saying that they would like a new President of the Republic “.
Nasradin Abdi Aptidon, 27, goalkeeper at AS Port (a club in the capital), has decided not to return to Djibouti for other reasons. “ It has been decided by a police colonel that I would join the National Police club and become a police officer, which I did not want. I was forced to live for several days in a police barracks before joining the national team for the September matches, without being able to see my family ”, he recounts.
Finally, Bilal Ahmed Hassan, 28, is also a guard and wears the colors of the National Gendarmerie club, to which he belongs.
A six month visa?
This is not the first time that African athletes have evaporated in favor of international competitions. In 2009, the Eritrean football team sought asylum in Kenya after losing 4-0 to Tanzania in the quarter-finals of the East and Central Africa Cup (Cecafa). At the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester in 2011, the Sierra Leonean delegation left with only ten of its thirty representatives. And at the London Olympics in 2012, seven Cameroonian athletes and three members of the Ivorian delegation vanished.
The three Djiboutian footballers, after surrendering to the French police, were placed in a transit zone for a period of four days. The Créteil court then accepted that they leave the airport, provided with a temporary eight-day visa, in order to answer questions from the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra). They were finally authorized to join members of their family in Ile-de-France or in the provinces.
The three players will know on Friday, September 17 whether or not they have a temporary six-month visa. “We are optimistic. If this visa is granted to them, they will be able to put together their file. [de demande d’asile], will receive a small nest egg and have access to health care through health insurance, explains a relative. But in Djibouti, there is a lot of pressure on their families. This is why other players, tempted by the same approach, have given up. “
A player of the Djibouti championship, on condition of anonymity, specifies that “The affair caused a lot of noise in Djibouti” and “Wishes them to obtain asylum in France, because it would undoubtedly be complicated for them if they returned “.