Afghan Olympic delegation leaves Pakistan

Image copyright AP Image caption The refugees have been given special permission to stay until they receive permanent refugee status A ragtag group of Afghan Olympic and sporting officials have endured difficult conditions to…

Afghan Olympic delegation leaves Pakistan

Image copyright AP Image caption The refugees have been given special permission to stay until they receive permanent refugee status

A ragtag group of Afghan Olympic and sporting officials have endured difficult conditions to help more than 90 men, women and children who fled to the safety of neighbouring Pakistan.

Among them are 86 of Afghanistan’s Olympic athletes, officials and a large family of relatives fleeing the region of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan.

“We were always ready and it’s tough but we have to do this for our country,” said Prince Stanislas who leads the team.

Prince Stanislas is second-in-command of the armed forces of the Afghan capital Kabul.

The refugees had begun running for safety from the Taliban in June, with violence in the region erupting after a roadside bomb killed a prominent politician and a member of the intelligence service, killing hundreds in the months that followed.

“It was very dangerous to even leave our homes,” said Khuldoon, an athlete who has been representing his home country at various levels of competitions for more than 30 years.

“Most of our family and relatives were caught and we were missing them.”

Khuldoon said his home town was still littered with bomb casings in many areas.

“It’s impossible to get used to this life when bombs kill people on a daily basis,” he said.

After starting a media campaign in the area asking for help to return to Afghanistan, he said people from the Pakistan helped organise the delegation’s departure in September.

It was approved for transit to Europe by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March, but the refugees have only been given special permission to stay until they receive full refugee status.

“It’s a huge sigh of relief that we are leaving, but the reality is difficult for us,” Khuldoon said.

“The situation is not good, people are hungry and we’re sometimes hearing shelling in the city of Kunduz.”

Image copyright AP Image caption The team says it will wait until they have officially been recognised as refugees

Khuldoon said the refugees have been provided with with sleeping mats and mattresses to help them live in a tent and told about the best types of food to avoid the possibility of illness.

“We were never given any vaccinations in our long life in Afghanistan and now we have no choice but to get free vaccinations from other people or buy them as we can’t afford to buy them,” he said.

The Afghan Olympic Committee said all the refugees involved in the departure for Europe are Afghans, while all of the families were from Pakistan.

The UN refugee agency has recognised an Olympic athlete from each of the country’s nine provinces.

Fakhir Mihami, a weightlifter from the south-western province of Herat, was asked to join the Olympic delegation, but he was unable to participate because he could not afford to pay for his travel.

Another young weightlifter from southern Afghanistan, Muhammad Farooq, is the first contestant to go to Europe, but his safety in Pakistan could be in danger.

“I understand that he is a good athlete but if he is facing danger, he will not be able to represent his country,” said Mohammad Ahmadi from the Asian weightlifting federation.

Meanwhile, Prince Stanislas has called on young Afghan athletes to follow in his footsteps.

“It’s very important for our athletes to use our knowledge of strength training and sports and return to their home country so that we can have a positive and healthy society,” he said.

He urged them to continue their training in any country which would help create opportunities to travel and compete.

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