Three members of the Djibouti national football team are seeking asylum in France, where one of them was allowed to leave an international airport in Paris on Friday after a week in the transit zone.
Nasrodin Abdi Aptidon left Orly Airport seven days after not boarding a connecting flight as Djibouti traveled via the French capital for a 2022 World Cup qualifier.
On Wednesday, his two teammates – Bilal Hassan and Aboubakar Elmi – received permission from French authorities to leave the airport after goalkeeper Aptidon missed a meeting due to a brief illness.
All three were given 72 hours to submit documents to the French authorities, which could then give them an additional three months to present their cases.
A human rights organization that helps footballers fears that both Hassan and Elmi, who work for Djibouti State, could end up in jail if they were refused asylum and forced to return home.
Elmi works for the police force, while Hassan is reported to have applied for asylum after alleging he was forced to obey orders he refused to carry out while serving in the Republican Guard in Djibouti.
“They are harassed by the government every time they say something that is not true,” said Jean-Loup Schaal, president of ARDHD (Association for the Respect of Human Rights in Djibouti).
“Hassan was forced to do things he refused to do, such as arresting family members. So they said it was not possible to arrest their people any further.”
Both Hassan, whose wife is reportedly in terminal pregnancy, and Elmi have wives and families in Djibouti.
The team stopped in Paris after being unable to fly directly to Morocco, where Djibouti lost to Niger on Monday, from Algeria, where the team had been beaten 8-0 by the African champions four days earlier.
Algeria break off diplomatic relations last month with their North African neighbors who only hosted the Niger game after the Djibouti national stadium was found unsuitable for international games.
Schaal said the players had told him that Djibouti’s heavy defeat by Algeria had raised fears of what might happen to them after their return to the East African nation.
After the Djibouti delegation missed their original flight from Paris to Morocco due to incorrect documents for both transit visas and Covid tests, the three players forged an escape plan.
When the delegation finally left on Friday evening, September 3, the trio was nowhere to be seen after going into hiding.
“They were afraid to return to Djibouti after losing so much,” said Schaal, who visited the players while they were stuck at the airport. “You didn’t plan it, you made the decision in Paris.”
Until the hearing on Wednesday that allowed Hassan and Elmi to leave the country, all three footballers had been in Orly’s transit zone.
“They were not allowed to enter France and only left the transit zone to go to court in Créteil,” explained Schaal.
The players spent the whole day in the transit area of the airport before being taken to a hotel, also in the transit area, to sleep at night.
If the trio finally succeeds in submitting their case to the French immigration authority OFPRA, they are allowed to stay in France.
The BBC has asked the Djibouti Football Association, a country that has not qualified for either a World Cup or an Africa Cup and which is ranked 182nd by Fifa, for an opinion.