The international robotics competition was wrapping up, but there was one slight problem, the Burundi kids were nowhere to be found
As an international robotics competition in Washington DC was wrapping up, the chaperone of the Burundi team was confronting his worst nightmare: he couldnt find his kids.
He looked in the college dorms where the six teens ages 16 to 18 had been staying. Their bags were packed and gone. Maybe they got on the wrong bus? Officers swept through DAR Constitution Hall. They were gone.
Police now say two of the six were seen crossing into Canada, and they do not suspect foul play with any of them. Event organizers said on Thursday that their disappearance may have been self-initiated. A member of the Burundi-American community was a little more straightforward, saying he has little doubt the teens are seeking asylum, though he emphasized he had no direct knowledge of the situation.
Police in Washington posted missing-person fliers on Wednesday asking for help finding the teens, who had last been seen at the time of Tuesdays final matches.
Don Ingabire, 16, and Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, were later seen crossing into Canada, Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Aquita Brown said.
Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for US Citizenship and Immigration services, which receives asylum applications, said the agency does not comment on whether specific individuals have sought asylum. Canadian immigration authorities also declined to comment.
The competition, designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science, attracted teams of teenagers from more than 150 nations. It had been in the national spotlight already, thanks to a team of girls from Afghanistan who were allowed to attend after President Donald Trump intervened on their behalf. Twice, their visas had been rejected an Afghan official said the Americans feared they would not go home.
There were indications that the students absence may have been self-initiated, including leaving all their keys in their mentor/chaperones bag and the removal of students clothes from their rooms, organizers First Global said in a statement.
The students had been staying in dorms at Trinity Washington University, and had been expected to return to Burundi on Thursday.
According to police reports, the teens were traveling on US visas good for one year. The reports say police tried to contact one missing teens uncle, but got no response.
The competitions webpage on Team Burundi says team members were selected from schools in Bujumbura, the capital city. The teams slogan in Kirundi is Ugushaka Nugushobora, which translates roughly to where there is a will, there is a way.
In addition to Ingabire and Mwamikazi, the missing teens are Nice Munezero, 17; Richard Irakoze and Aristide Irambona, both 18; and Kevin Sabumukiza, 17.
Oscar Niyiragira, chairman of the United Burundian-American Community Association Inc, said many in the community feel Canada offers better odds for asylum, particularly now that the Trump administration has taken a harsh stance on immigration.
He called the teens departure disappointing and said economic impoverishment, rather than political persecution, drives most decisions to seek asylum from Burundi. He said it unfairly tarnishes Burundis reputation when people flee and exaggerate fears of political violence.
Now Im not saying the government does not commit some crimes. They do, said Niyiragira, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. But the situation in Burundi is not nearly as bad as it was in waves of violence in the 70s and the 90s, he said.
Burundi has been plagued by deadly political violence since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunzizas ultimately successful decision to seek a third term led to street protests. Critics called his move unconstitutional. More than 500 people have been killed, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.