Four Eritrean athletes including Rehaset Mehari, the team's only female athlete, have also claimed asylum in the UK
Tigrai Online, August 15, 2012
It was while his team-mates on Eritrea's Olympic team were out watching the men's marathon in the Sunday sunshine that Weynay Ghebresilasie finally decided to take the decision that has changed his life forever.
Without a goodbye, the 18-year-old walked out of his quarters at the Olympic village, threw away the sim card that had been given to him by the team's minders and embarked on the process of claiming asylum in the UK – turning his back on a life as a conscript in the army of one of the world's most reclusive and repressive regimes.
"As recently as last month, when I competed in Spain, I had managed to retain some optimism that the conditions back home would get better, but they seem to be getting worse and worse instead," Ghebresilasie told the Guardian. The middle-distance runner carried his nation's flag during the Olympic opening ceremony at the head of a team 12 Eritrean athletes.
While there have been reports that as many as a dozen athletes from various countries have gone "missing" rather than choose to return to their home country, Ghebresilasie is the first to go public on why he has chosen to claim asylum.
Visas permitting Olympic athletes to be in the UK legally run out in November but Ghebresilasie said that he has already spoken to immigration officials at the UK Border Agency's asylum screening unit in Croydon.
Three other Eritrean athletes including Rehaset Mehari, the team's only female athlete, have also claimed asylum but were not willing to come forward to speak due to fears of retribution against their families, according to the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change, a diaspora-based opposition group which is now providing support to Ghebresilasie.
"There are reasons to be concerned about our families because the regime is unpredictable and is likely to treat my actions as a betrayal," the 3000m steeplechase runner said.
"If someone is being accused of illegally leaving the country it's not unusual for a fine to be imposed on their family, or for their next of kin to be detained."
Source: Guardian UK, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/aug/15/eritrea-runner-seeks-asylum-uk?INTCMP=SRCH