Serbians and Oxfam stump up support for cricket among refugees and migrants
It is hoped playing cricket will give the men mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan a little taste of home.
As thousands of refugees and migrants continue to arrive on the shores of Europe, one Balkan country is starting to embrace cricket to try to give them a little taste of home.
It is estimated that Serbia now hosts almost 5,000 asylum seekers, who have arrived from the Middle East and Africa in the hope of starting a new life.
But with many of the surrounding borders now shut, they are stuck in overcrowded camps or living rough on the streets of Belgrade.
In one of these camps, a former army base called Obrenovac, Oxfam and the Serbian Cricket Federation have teamed up to help the nearly 1,000 men play a sport they love.
Corina Iovescu, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam, said: “We are providing three daily meals working with two local partners and in October alone we served around 45,000 meals.
“We began playing sport in the camp in May and they started playing cricket matches with some bats and some cement posts they found in the woods.
“So we started to look how they could play in a more formal manner and we found the Serbian cricket association had done it elsewhere so we invited them to come and work in Obrenovac.”
Most of the men living there are from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a former under-19 Afghani international player and 23-year-old Janat, who spent three years playing club cricket for Plumpton in East Sussex.
He said: “Life here is really hard, I have now been here for one year. I have tried many times to cross the border but have not succeeded.
“I just love cricket and want to play it, I don’t have a passport so can’t play for a Serbian cricket team so I want to go back to England. I really liked the guys there, I miss playing with them as they are good people.”
Despite the closed borders and the route to Western Europe shut, each night dozens of asylum seekers gather in a square in Belgrade to pay people smugglers to help them try to cross.
This often costs around 5,000 euro and many people have attempted to make the journey dozens of times.
Haris Dajc, chairman of the Serbian Cricket Foundation, said: “Our vision is to focus on minorities and endangered groups because that’s the point of sport and to bring people together.
“I think it helps them feel relaxed and a bit like home, it’s a big part of Afghani and Pakistani culture and we want to make it part of Serbian culture.
“They are stuck here due to political and other reasons so why not help them while they are here to enjoy themselves and we would be very happy if some of them stay and bring additional quality to Serbian cricket.”