What could six Burundian teenagers be running from? Do they want to be found?
A group of African students from Burundi vanished after traveling to Washington D.C. for the annual First Global Robotics Challenge on Tuesday (July 18). No information has been released on the possible whereabouts of the remaining students: Nice Munezero, 17, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Richard Irakoze, 18, and Aristide Irambona, 18.
However, the teens would be eligible to seek bond and could stay in the country while they await their hearing – which can take years.
Police issued photographs of the missing teenagers the following day.
This combination of photos provided by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department shows six Burundi teenagers who were reported missing on July 19, 2017, after participating in an worldwide robotics competition in Washington.
A Washington police spokeswoman said the teenagers’ disappearance was still under investigation on Friday, and declined to say what USA state they were spotted crossing from.
Event organisers believe the youths may have planned their disappearance, and members of the Burundi-American community say there is little doubt they are planning to seek asylum, either in the United States or in Canada.
William Cocks, spokesman for the State Department’s Division of Consular Affairs, said the State Department screens visa applications, and one of its goals is to ensure that visa applicants are not trying to use a tourist visa to permanently immigrate into the US.
Organizers of the competition the disappearance of the teens may have been “self-initiated”.
The teens left their hotel room key cards in a chaperone’s bag, but took their clothes with them when they left, according to FIRST Global, the US non-profit that organized the competition.
The four males and two females, who took part in the contest as a team, were last seen late Tuesday afternoon when the FIRST Global Challenge ended, authorities said Thursday.
They “are always to be under close supervision of their adult mentor and are advised not to leave the premises unaccompanied by the mentor”, it said.
A Burundian community leader in the U.S. suggested the teens may be intending to seek asylum since the eastern African country has faced deadly political violence in recent years, forcing 400,000 people from their homes since April 2015.
He called the teens’ departure disappointing and said economic impoverishment, rather than political persecution, drives most decisions to seek asylum from Burundi.
The Burundian Embassy in Washington said that neither did it know about the robot contest nor the participation of a Burundian team.
According to police reports, the teens were traveling on USA visas good for one year.