Cricket brings joy to migrants stranded in Bosnia


Joyful cheers echoed through an asylum seekers camp in Bosnia this week as dozens of teens and young men put aside their daily struggles for a game of cricket.

The players engrossed in the match ran over an improvised field clutching wooden sticks or throwing balls. Others supported the teams by clapping to the side, their faces beaming.

“It was a good game!” Sifet, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, said.

“Tomorrow we have the final tournament!” Mohammad Jahanzeb, from Pakistan, intervened.

The opportunity to relax and have fun at Camp Blazuj in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo was made possible by a Rome-based humanitarian group which donated cricket equipment for refugees and migrants in the Balkan country.

Andrea Costa, president of the Baobab Experience association, told The Associated Press that activists came up with the idea of ​​asylum seekers themselves, especially those from Pakistan, Bangladesh or India. , where cricket is a national sport.

Thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa or Asia have been stranded for months, if not years, in Bosnia awaiting a chance to make their way to Western Europe. From Bosnia, migrants first try to get to Croatia, a neighboring nation of the European Union, before continuing to richer European countries.

“Talking with a lot of young people… it came naturally to ask them what they needed most, what they wanted,” said Costa. “Just like an Italian boy would ask for a soccer ball, to play soccer, they say they miss cricket.”

Costa and his team traveled to Bosnia after collecting donations from the embassies of the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan in Rome and the communities of those countries in Italy, Costa said. Along with Sarajevo, equipment was delivered to the central town of Tuzla in Bosnia.

“Our next step with cricket will be to go back to Italy, go back to Europe and say the migrants were very happy,” Costa said.

Among those eagerly awaiting the arrival of the packages was Ali Cheema, who said he started playing cricket at the age of 7 and used to play for several clubs. in his native Pakistan.

Now 24, Cheema has been in Bosnia for two years. As the car carrying the cricket equipment pulled up to Tuzla, he was there to open the bags full of bats, sticks, gloves, jerseys and caps.

“We are going to play a cricket match as soon as possible,” he said, explaining that previously “we used to chop wood” to make bats. A day later, Cheema and his friends could be seen training at a playground in Tuzla.

“I decided to leave Pakistan to follow my dreams,” Cheema said. “I would love to go to England and continue to play cricket because I was a cricketer in Pakistan and I didn’t have enough opportunities.”

Costa said his organization plans to do more to help young foreign migrants in Bosnia engage in sports and “spend the day with the things they love.”

“First of all, we believe that it is their right to achieve their goal, that it is their right to reach Europe,” said Costa. “And secondly, our organization believes that since they pass through these countries every effort should be made to help them feel welcome and stay in good condition.”

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