- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

The Immigration and Naturalization Service took custody of four Boy Scouts from Tanzania who left the National Scout Jamboree over the weekend, but would neither confirm nor deny the group is seeking asylum in the United States.
A spokesman speculated they were trying to escape poverty in their home country.
"We're still determining exactly why they left," said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger. "The initial premise appears to be to seek a better life in the United States."
The four Scouts — one 15, one 16 and two 17 — were part of a group of nine Scouts who traveled to the United States from their homeland on Africa's eastern coast to participate in the National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Va.
"America is seen as the land of opportunity around the world," Mr. Strassberger said. "[People] will do anything they can to get a piece of it."
Tanzania, a country of just more than 35 million people, has been cited by the State Department as one of the poorer countries on the African continent, with an average annual per-capita income of just $730.
CIA accounts note the effects of excess mortality as a result of the region's AIDS epidemic. Tanzania became the focus of an investigation after the U.S. Embassy was bombed in August 1998 in the city of Dar es Salaam, killing 224 persons — including 12 Americans.
"We're looking at an unusual case," Mr. Strassberger said of the Scouts, who were reported missing on Sunday afternoon. "It's four Boy Scouts from an African country. To come here, it's a trip of a lifetime. [They] disappear and everyone is wondering why."
Scout and military officials searched the Army base north of Richmond as soon as the boys disappeared. The FBI took control of the investigation early Monday and determined the boys had left the Jamboree voluntarily.
Late Monday night, the boys turned up in the District. They approached a police officer on the street at 501 New York Ave. NW.
"They somehow found themselves outside the Juvenile Processing Center in D.C.," said FBI spokeswoman Mary Johlie in Richmond.
An officer was outside the building taking a break just before midnight when the four walked up to her, D.C. police Sgt. Joe Gentile said.
"The officer asked them, 'Do you speak English?' One said he spoke a little English." Sgt. Gentile said. "It was confirmed they hitched a ride from Virginia. They had slept outside for a night."
Sgt. Gentile said the officer gave the tired boys "some juice and let them sleep a few hours inside the building."
While the boys were resting, the officer called the FBI and the INS on a hunch they were the missing Tanzanian Boy Scouts.
The INS took custody of the boys about 4:45 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Strassberger said. An interpreter who spoke Swahili was needed to interview them.
Mr. Strassberger said the boys may be seeking to stay in the United States for economic reasons.
"Tanzania, in relative terms, is a peaceful country," he said. "But I think we're talking about limited opportunity. It's a relatively poor country.
"We would never confirm or deny anyone's asylum application," he said. "It is possible they have relatives here, but there has been no confirmation."
He said it is not unusual that relatives of people seeking asylum do not have U.S. citizenship and do not want to become exposed. "We're still trying to contact their families in Tanzania," he said.
The Jamboree, which began July 23 and ends today, included more than 32,000 Scouts from all over the United States and 26 foreign nations.
The Tanzanian contingency was part of a group of about 300 Scouts from other countries.
"We're happy to hear they are safe," said Boy Scouts of America spokesman Gregg Shields. "We don't know if they hitchhiked off the camp or got a ride from a friend or relative.
"I couldn't predict if it was part of their original intent to leave us and seek asylum," he said. "If they changed clothes and got in a car, one wouldn't know they were Boy Scouts."
He said proposals to prevent such incidents in the future were being evaluated.
"We'll take on every aspect of the Jamboree, and we'll submit something called after-action reports," Mr. Shields said.
"It's been an active two weeks, that's for sure," he added.
On Thursday, violent thunderstorms dropped 2 inches of rain on the Jamboree, and two Scouts were struck by lightning. The Scouts were hospitalized briefly and did not suffer serious injuries.
More rain on Sunday prevented President Bush from making an official visit to the Jamboree. The president delivered videotaped remarks on Monday, hailing the Boy Scouts and saying the organization's values "are the values of America."

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