RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Some 200 Ghanaians in Brazil for the World Cup have applied to stay permanently citing religious violence back home, police confirmed Friday, as Accra dismissed the bid as baseless.
“Between July 3 and 10, 193 Ghanaians who entered Brazil, for the most part with a tourist visa, have asked for asylum in the police station at Caxias do Sul,” a city in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, a federal police spokesman told AFP.
Accra, however, said the bid was not grounded in fact.
“The basis for the alleged request for the asylum is completely untrue,” Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu told Ghana’s independent Citi FM radio station.
“You and I know that there is no known religious conflict raging in this country at the moment.”
The make-up of the group — including the religion and home regions of the individuals in question — was not immediately clear. However, they reportedly told Brazilian authorities that inter-religious violence between rival Muslim groups has made it unsafe for them to return home.
The group has reportedly found shelter in a Catholic church in Caxias do Sul, located in a comparatively wealthy region.
More than 3,000 Senegalese and Haitians live in the area and have also requested asylum, the police spokesman said.
Ghana has been one of the most stable countries in West Africa for more than two decades and is not known to have any significant religious violence.
Ofusu said Ghanaian diplomats in Brazil have been instructed to work with local authorities to investigate the situation but warned it would be “surprising and unfortunate” should anyone conclude that the asylum claim has merit.
Some, and possibly all, members of the group traveled to Brazil as part of the government delegation to the World Cup, officials said.
The asylum request is the latest off-the-pitch scandal surrounding Ghana’s disastrous 2014 Cup performance.
For one, players demanded that more than $3 million in bonuses be flown to them in Brazil, an embarrassingly public expenditure for Ghana’s cash-strapped government.
Meanwhile, the Ghana Football Association kicked key players midfielder Sulley Muntari and striker Kevin-Prince Boateng out of the squad before their final match amid.
The GFA alleged Muntari assaulted a staff member and Boateng insulted coach Kwesi Appiah.
The team’s preparations were also tainted by allegations that a GFA official had agreed for the national team to play in a game organized by match-fixers.
The squad, which made the quarter-finals in 2010, finished at the bottom of their group.