21 July 2017

Burundi Robotics Team Goes Missing From US Competition

Photo: First Global
The organisers of the robotics competition posted this photo of the Burundi team ahead of the event. They did not name the team members.

Six Burundi teenagers have vanished after taking part in a robotics tournament in Washington DC. Police said they suspected no "foul play," feeding speculation that the group wanted to avoid returning home.

Two of the teenagers were spotted crossing the Canadian border, police said on Thursday, two days after the entire Burundi team vanished from Washington DC. The group included four boys and two girls between the ages of 16 and 18 who took part in the robotics tournament dubbed FIRST Global Challenge.

The group's adult chaperone first noticed the teens were missing after the event ended on Tuesday, while checking the dorm rooms where they had been staying. He discovered that all of his team's baggage was also gone, and found their room keys in his own bag.

"There were indications that the students' absence may have been self-initiated, including leaving all their keys in their mentor/chaperone's bag and the removal of students' clothes from their rooms," competition organizers said in a statement.

Running away from home

DC police asked the public for help locating the missing teens on Wednesday, even though there was no indication of them being taken against their will.

"We don't have any indication of foul play and we're continuing to investigate this case," police spokeswoman Margarita Mikhaylova said.

The news of two of the teens, Don Ingabire and Audrey Mwamikazi, crossing into Canada, points to the conclusion that the disappearance was planned and the teens were trying to seek asylum to avoid going back to Burundi.

Canadian authorities said they could neither confirm nor deny that the two have entered Canada.

The east African nation of Burundi has been shaken by violence since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to circumvent the constitutional two-term limit and run for another term. His bid was ultimately successful, but the decision triggered mass exodus and violent unrest that claimed over 500 lives.

The FIRST robotics competition in Washington DC drew international attention last week after Afghanistan's all-girl team was denied US visas, prompting public outcry. They were only allowed to travel to Washington and enter the contest after a personal intervention from President Donald Trump. Nearly 160 other countries also sent their teams for the international event, which saw pupils compete in ten different categories.

(AP, dpa, Reuters)

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