A high school robotics team from Burundi has gone missing after an international competition in Washington. The six teenagers appear to have left on their own accord. Their dorm keys were left in their coach’s bag and clothes were taken from their rooms.
The coach reported their disappearance after they failed to return to the hotel following the competition’s closing ceremony. Two members of the team were seen crossing into Canada, according to authorities.
The robotics competition for youth from around the world, organized by the nonprofit First Global, had gained international attention after invited participants struggled to get visas. An all-girls team from Afghanistan saw their applications rejected before US officials reversed the decision. A robotics team from Gambia was also initially barred from traveling to the US.
More than 400,000 Burundians have fled the country since April 2015, after president Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term triggered mass protests and violence. Most have sought safety in nearby countries including Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The team from Burundi, between the ages of 15 and 18, was made up of the best students from schools across the capital of Bujumbura, according to the team’s coach. They competed with their own locally designed and constructed robot. The team’s slogan was Ugushaka Nugushobora, or “where there is willing there is also ability.”