Two of six Burundi teenagers who went missing after an worldwide robotics competition in the United States have been seen crossing the border into Canada, U.S. authorities said Thursday. The mentor and chaperone for the team, Canesius Bindaba, informed FIRST organizers on Tuesday evening that he could not find the two girls and four boys, whose ages range from 16 to 18.
The competition's webpage about Team Burundi shows the six team members posing with a flag and says team members were selected from schools in Bujumbura, the capital city.
FIRST Global, a USA -based non-profit that organized the competition, said it had notified police about the missing competitors.
The competition, held in Washington D.C. opened on Sunday and closed Tuesday, which was the last time the team was seen.
FIRST President Joe Sestak subsequently called Washington police, who began searching and tweeted out missing persons notices.
"Security of the students is of paramount importance to FIRST Global".
"FIRST Global hired a private firm to provide security at Constitution Hall and also ensured that all students can get safely to their dormitories before and after the daily competition by providing our own transportation to the students staying at Trinity Washington University", the statement read.
It was not immediately clear why the teenagers would go to Canada, and authorities, who do not suspect foul play, have not offered a potential motive.
The other robotics members still missing are Richard Irakoze, 18; Kevin Sabumukiza, 17; Nice Munezero, 17; and Aristide Irambona, 18. An all-girl squad from Afghanistan drew worldwide media attention when President Donald Trump intervened after they were denied USA visas.
The mentor said the teens travelled from Burundi for the competition and have one-year visas, USA police reports say.
The east African nation of Burundi has been shaken by violence since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza chose to circumvent the constitutional two-term limit and run for another term.
The competition, which featured teams from 157 countries, was in spotlight after an all-female team from Afghanistan were initially denied visas to travel to the U.S. In February 2017, the United Nations said that up to 380,000 refugees from Burundi had fled to Tanzania.
"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.
There are also restrictions on movement, as military and police have checkpoints "throughout the country", the report says.
Burnundi residents face widespread human rights abuses, including murder, rape and torture by political groups, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Burundi Embassy in Washington said by email that it did not know about the robotics contestor if a Burundian team was attending.