Asylum seekers turn to cricket while embarking on punishing passage to Europe

The case for sport having a positive influence on world problems is regularly overstated but if it can’t solve all the ills of the world – or even a few of them – it can at least provide a welcome distraction in times of hardship or difficulty.

And there can’t be many more difficult situations than being in the limbo of an asylum seeker in a strange land. So it is heartening to hear reports that a large group of migrants in a Bosnia refugee camp took part in a tournament recently, with hundreds more watching from the sidelines.

It may not surprise you to learn that most of the participants were from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Many have fled poverty or war and are stuck in Sarjajevo before trying to cross into Croatia on their way to wealthier EU countries.

The game came about, according to the Associated Press, when the migrants were asked by aid and charity workers how they would like to relieve the strain and monotony of their daily lives in the Blazuj camp.

Andrea Costa told the news agency: “Speaking with many young people it came naturally to ask what they were missing the most, what they would want. Exactly as an Italian boy would ask for a football, they say they are missing cricket.”

Costa is the president of the Baobab Experience, a voluntary humanitarian organisation based in Rome. He said that his team drove to Bosnia after collecting donations of cricket gear from the UK, Indian and Pakistan embassies in the Italian capital.

Previously, one of the cricketers, Ali Cheema, from Pakistan, told AP, “we cut some trees to make bats”.

He said he had been in Bosnia for two years after deciding to leave Pakistan “to follow my dreams”.

The 24-year-old, who first played the sport at the age of seven, added: “I would like to go to England and continue to play cricket because I was a cricket player in Pakistan and didn’t get enough opportunity.”

Before returning to Italy to pass on the news that the equipment had been gratefully received, Costa said that his organisation intended to do more to help the migrants engage in sports and “pass the day with things that they like”.

He added: “Our organisation thinks that while they are transiting these countries, every effort has to be done to help them feel welcome and stay in good condition.”

And who knows, there may be a future international player among them, maybe Cheema. It is easy to be sentimental rather than pragmatic about such things, but what a story that would make.

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