Run­ning for a rea­son: Refugees race in Hong Kong

Kuwait Times - - International -

HONG KONG: Refugees took to Hong Kong’s trails yes­ter­day in one of the new­est fix­tures in the city’s busy race cal­en­dar as they carve out a place in its run­ning com­mu­nity. Hong Kong does not give refugees a per­ma­nent home in its own ter­ri­tory and they can spend years hop­ing for sanc­tu­ary in a third coun­try, with most cases un­suc­cess­ful. In the mean­time they are un­able to work be­cause of gov­ern­ment re­stric­tions and sub­sist on hand­outs from au­thor­i­ties and NGOs in a city with spi­ral­ing liv­ing costs.

But they have been em­braced by Hong Kong’s tight-knit trail run­ning com­mu­nity and reg­u­larly com­pete on its moun­tain­ous routes. Yes­ter­day’s RUN char­ity race said refugees had been in­stru­men­tal in or­ga­niz­ing the event as well as com­pet­ing in it. Now in its sec­ond year, 25 refugees, mainly from Africa, lined up in a field of more than 300 peo­ple who were run­ning ei­ther 14-kilo­me­tre or 19-kilo­me­tre dis­tances. “I love run­ning-if I have any op­por­tu­nity to do it, I don’t hes­i­tate,” African refugee and com­peti­tor Ali, 35, told AFP. “It makes me feel free, have less stress and be healthy.”

An­other African refugee and run­ner Sam, in her 40s, said the sport was “in her blood” and RUN had given her the op­por­tu­nity to do it in Hong Kong. “It makes us feel like we are ac­cepted, it makes us feel like we have an­other com­mu­nity apart from what we left back home,” she said. RUN says it seeks to help refugees over trauma through sport as well as pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. “When peo­ple run along­side refugees, peo­ple re­alise they’re nor­mal peo­ple like you and me-all the bar­ri­ers fall away,” said co-founder of the NGO, Vir­ginie Goethals.

“Sport and na­ture is re­ally a hu­man equal­izer,” she added. Hong Kong res­i­dent Joyce Li, 35, who was run­ning yes­ter­day, said she was aware refugees had a “hard time” in the city and wanted to sup­port them. There are around 6,000 refugees and asy­lum seek­ers in Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 mil­lion. “They are al­ways un­fairly be­ing as­so­ci­ated with hu­man traf­fick­ing or abus­ing wel­fare,” Li said. An in­ter­na­tional refugee Olympic team made a his­toric de­but in Rio in 2016 and a refugee team will again com­pete at the Games in Tokyo in 2020. —AFP

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