Police: Ethiopian athletes planned to seek asylum

EUGENE, Ore. — One of four Ethiopian athletes who went missing during an international track meet in Eugene told a police officer all of them plan to seek asylum in the United States, according to a newly-released University of Oregon police report.

Amanuel Abebe, 17, told the police officer that he and three others on the Ethiopian track team, who are 18, planned to apply for asylum at a U.S. immigration office in Portland on July 28, The Register-Guard reported Sunday.

The runners were reported missing from the World Junior Championships in Eugene over the July 26-27 weekend, fueling some speculation at the time that they were planning to seek political asylum in the U.S.

Three of the athletes were found with acquaintances in Beaverton, Oregon. The fourth, Zeyituna Mohammed, was found with acquaintances in Federal Way.

Mohammed, 18, told a local police officer through an interpreter that she may seek asylum. Ethiopia has seen significant political turmoil and human rights abuses in recent years, and Mohammed said she is afraid to return there, the newspaper reported.

The athletes’ coaches also told university police officer that the athletes may try to seek U.S. citizenship “to defect from Ethiopia,” according to the police report.

It’s unknown whether the athletes have sought asylum. When the university police officer checked with federal agencies on July 28, none said the athletes had inquired about the asylum process.

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services said the agency doesn’t release that information, citing federal privacy law.

The athletes are in the United States legally and can stay per the terms of their visas, a university official has previously said.

To seek asylum, a person must prove persecution because of race, national origin, ethnicity, membership in a particular social class, or political opinion, said Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman with the Citizen and Immigrations Services.

The person must also be afraid to go back to their native country, she said.

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