Future unclear for Burundi teens who disappeared from DC

WASHINGTON — Two of six members of a robotics team from Burundi that disappeared during a competition in D.C. have been seen crossing into Canada, but it’s unclear why and what will happen to the teenagers.

Canadian and U.S. immigration officials have been reluctant to discuss whether the students, who range from ages 16-18, have sought asylum from their home country.

On Thursday, D.C. police said 16-year-old Don Ingabire and 17-year-old Audrey Mwamikazi were seen crossing into Canada.

Immigration officials in Canada have not said whether the teens entered the country illegally or through an official point of entry, and won’t say whether either teen has sought asylum.

Marilu Cabrera, a spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which receives asylum applications, said the agency does not comment on whether specific people are seeking protection.

Hassan Ahmad, an immigration lawyer in northern Virginia, who is not involved in the case, told The Associated Press if the teens apply for asylum, ICE could seek to detain them, pending removal proceedings.

He said the teens could seek release on bond, and remain in the U.S. until a hearing, which could take months or years.

Ahmad said even if ICE declines to seek detention, it could take several years before a formal hearing to determine whether an applicant is eligible for asylum.

The chairman of the United Burundian-American Community Association said many in the community believe Canada offers better odds for asylum, with the Trump administration seeking to minimize illegal immigration.

Burundi has been plagued by political violence in recent years. More than 500 people have been killed since the political crisis of 2015 in Burundi, an East African nation of 10 million people, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country.

Matthew Barakat, of The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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