Missing Burundi robotics team members found safe in Canada, police confirm

Dora Pope
July 22, 2017

Six teen members of the Burundi robotics team who were competing in an global competition this week in Washington, D.C., have been reported missing.

Based on police reports filed Wednesday, the four boys and two girls from the East African nation were last seen Tuesday evening, when the competition concluded.

The robotics competition grabbed headlines worldwide after an all-girl team from Afghanistan was twice denied USA visas to compete, but the White House later intervened in a last-minute act, granting that team and its chaperone a special parole to enter the country on a short-term basis.

According to FIRST Global, the organization sponsoring the competition held in Washington, Bindaba notified organizers after he could not locate the students Tuesday night, following the competition's closing ceremony.

"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.

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During the competition, the students were staying in a dormitory on the Trinity Washington University campus, but a Univeristy spokesperson said FIRST Global had full responsibility for the students. Police said they suspected no "foul play", feeding speculation that the group wanted to avoid returning home. They were identified as Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, Nice Munezero, 17, Don Charu Ingabire, 16, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Richard Irakoze, 18, and Aristide Irambona, 18.

This week's competition had already garnered global headlines after a group of teenage girls from Afghanistan faced a plight to get visas to travel to the USA because of President Trump's recently implemented travel ban.

A Washington police spokeswoman said the disappearance of the teenagers was still under investigation on Friday, and declined to say what USA state they were spotted crossing from. The teens would be eligible to seek bond and stay in the country while they await their hearing. A previous version erroneously said the two Burundi teens would not fall under the Canada-U.S. The mentor said they disappeared after the competition, but he doesn't know where they went.

"Rebel forces, ex-combatants and youth gangs have crossed into Burundi from the Democratic Republic of Congo and attacked and kidnapped civilians", according to the U.S. State Department.

More than 400,000 people have fled the country into volatile neighboring countries, human rights groups estimate, according to Reuters. FIRST Global informed the police later that day. According to the United Nations, over 300,000 people fled the country since 2014 due to violent gangs from Congo and disappearances and killings allegedly committed by Burundian security forces.

Other reports by My Hot News

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