The Eritrean national team before the start of the match against Tanzania, which was held in Nairobi (Photo: AFP)
Mass defections by Eritrean soccer players are becoming common as the country is one of the world's most secretive states ruled by a reclusive president.
This year United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay accused the Asmara government of meting out summary executions, torture and detaining thousands of political prisoners.
"It's true 17 players and a doctor from Eritrea have come to us claiming that they feel unsafe at home and that they want asylum in Uganda," Musa Ecweru, junior minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, told Reuters.
"So we have told police to stop hunting for them and we have also given them asylum seekers' forms."
The Eritreans had disappeared from their hotel over the weekend after losing 2-0 to Rwanda on Friday during the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) competition.
In July last year 13 members of an Eritrean soccer club sought asylum in Tanzania while 12 members of the national squad disappeared in Kenya in 2009 after competing in a regional tournament.
Ecweru said the Eritreans would have to undergo the normal verification process that all asylum seekers are subjected to before their asylum bid is processed.
"They will be interviewed by a committee and they will be subjected to rigorous questioning to determine whether their reasons for fleeing their country are genuine."
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