Seventeen teenage girls from the Democratic Republic of the Congo were granted visas to play in last month’s Norway Cup youth football tournament in Oslo. They never showed up, now it seems the team doesn’t exist, and no one knows where the girls are. Fears are rising that Norwegian officials have been fooled by human traffickers.
Newspaper Aftenposten reports that on May 20th, a visa application arrived at the Norwegian Embassy in Uganda. It sought travel permission into Europe’s so-called “Schengen Area,” of which Norway is a part, for 25 players and leaders of a football (soccer) team called “Dynamo Girls.”
The team was said to be from Kisangani and wanted to play in the Norway Cup, held at the end of July every year in Oslo.
Embassy personnel in Kampala, Uganda, reportedly had doubts about the application and forwarded it to Norway’s immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) in Oslo. With the tournament looming in less than two months, UDI personnel gave the visa application urgent attention and approved Schengen visas for 17 of the players, aged 17-19, and five club leaders. Two of the girls were rejected because they exceeded age limits and a third was turned down as well.
The visas were sent back to the embassy in Kampala, where they were collected by a courier. Embassy staff continued to be concerned, however, and soon Foreign Ministry officials in both Oslo and Kisangani were investigating. They concluded, according to Aftenposten , that the visas were improperly issued: No personal interviews of the applicants were conducted, no record of the team could be found and calls made to phone numbers on the applications went unanswered.
Links to Congo murder trial
None of the persons granted visas showed up at the appointed time in Oslo. The visas, however, allow their entry, either individually or as a group, into any Schengen gateway in Europe over a broad time period.
The visas could be cancelled, but Norwegian officials haven’t resorted to that step yet. Aftenposten reports that speculation is rising that the lack of cancellation may be tied to the trial of two Norwegians set to begin in Kisangani on Friday. The Norwegians are accused of murdering a Congolese taxi driver and face death sentences. The last thing Norway’s foreign ministry wants now, it’s reported, is a diplomatic incident over visas.
Fears remain, though, that the visas may have been obtained for sale (Schengen visas reportedly sell for USD 10,000 in the capital of Kinshasa), by persons wanting to send their daughters to Europe, or to human traffickers who could use them to send young Congolese girls to Europe as prostitutes.
UDI officials have admitted that mistakes were made in granting the visas, and they apologized on national radio station NRK on Thursday.