Thailand: an ordinary game of cricket during extraordinary times

25 June 2012

JRS translator, Saadat, tries to bowl out his Sri Lankan opponent during an exhilarating cricket match on World Refuge Day (JRSAP)

Bangkok, 25 June  2012 – To passers-by, Saturday’s cricket match would have looked like any other. Excited cheers from spectators as the umpire shouts ‘you’re out’, the crack of the ball against the willow bat as fielders dive to catch their opponents out. But this was no ordinary game. It was a game played with extraordinary passion by those who had not played for many years, denied the opportunity since leaving home in search of international protection.

Asylum seekers and refugees from Sri Lanka and Pakistan pitted themselves against each other in an event organised by JRS to mark World Refugee Day.

“Six months ago the idea of playing cricket in Bangkok would have been unthinkable. Cricket is not a commonly played game in Thailand and the risk of arrest prevents us from playing”, said Saadat, a refugee from Pakistan and JRS translator.

Tackling isolation

Bangkok is home to 330 asylum seekers and refugees from Pakistan and 307 from Sri Lanka, making them the two largest refugee communities in the city.

“We hope this can help bring Bangkok’s two largest refugee communities a little closer”, said Rufino Seva, JRS urban refugee programme director.

“Today I’ve made new friends and now I know the names of people I had only seen in passing. This match has given us friends from beyond our own borders.”

Left languishing in Bangkok for years with limited freedom to move due to a very real fear of arrest and detention by the authorities, the opportunity to socialise over a 7-hour game of cricket was an uncommon but much needed event.

“This is the first time I’ve played cricket in four years”, said a refugee from Sri Lanka, “Cricket in Sri Lanka is part of our daily lives and since arriving in Bangkok we’ve not had the opportunity to play.”

For others, this was the first time they had been together as a community since arriving in Bangkok, separated by long stints in detention or isolated in remote parts of the city.

“This is one of my happiest moments since arriving in Thailand”, said one spectator, “I spend most of my time indoors and often feel incredibly isolated”.

Waiting with dignity

“The character of the men and women here today, both on and off the field is impressive. I have a great deal of admiration for their perseverance and bravery”, said Oliver, regional advocacy officer at JRS.

Refugee Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the strength and resilience of those seeking safety and protection. On this World Refugee Day, JRS reminds States that protection is a regional issue that requires cooperation between countries, agencies and NGOs.

“This simple cricket match has brought the community together, giving them temporary relief from their very stressful lives and has provided the opportunity to have fun”, said Rufino.

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