25 Dec. 2021 4:40 p.m.
Almost a dozen of the members of an Afghan boxing team that recently competed in the Belgrade men’s world championship are still in the Serbian capital. Fearing the Taliban, they are trying to get asylum in an EU country.
by Marinko Učur, Belgrade
Although almost 50 days have passed since the AIBA Men’s World Boxing Championships in the Serbian capital Belgrade, an 11-strong boxing team is still in Serbia and doesn’t dare to return to their home country.
They are athletes from Afghanistan who, according to their own statements, had decided to stay in Belgrade for the time being out of fear of the new Taliban government. Accordingly, they wanted to fly back to their home country on November 7th, one day after the World Cup, when their visa for Serbia expired. But then they acted differently. One of the boxers explained towards the media in Serbia:
“When we were at the passport control at Belgrade airport, we received dramatic calls from our colleagues who had stayed behind in Afghanistan. They all told us: Don’t return! And we have not returned and are still here in Serbia, hoping that we will a departure is made possible. “
The Afghan athletes hope that one of the western countries will grant them asylum. Since diplomatic missions of the EU states in Belgrade have not shown any willingness to meet the athletes and guarantee them a visa and a transfer to the countries of Western Europe, the boxers are practically “trapped” in Serbia.
But they are determined not to give up on their project. Another problem is that their Serbian visa has also expired and they are practically illegally staying in Belgrade.
However, it seems that their unenviable position has caused a stir among the Serbian public as some humanitarian organizations have begun to show interest in the case. They were taken under protection by the legal team of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights (BCHR), led by the lawyer Marko Štambuk, and were offered his legal assistance. However, the athletes refused to reveal their current whereabouts – “somewhere in the vicinity of Belgrade”. Concrete slab:
“In this case, this would endanger their situation, as it is sanctioned as an administrative offense and other restrictive measures are imposed on them because of violations of the Aliens Act. These people, however, meet all the requirements for international protection.”
One thing is already clear: the team has no intention of staying in Serbia. The men would rather go to one of the western countries, where the majority of their compatriots had emigrated during the American occupation, but also after the establishment of the Taliban rule in this country. When the Afghans were ready to speak to the Serbian media, they expressed fears that the Taliban would harass them in their country. One of the boxers, Silab Nouri, told Serbian media:
“The current situation in Afghanistan is completely chaotic. We witness suicide bombings, explosions and targeted killings every day. We cannot make any progress in our sport or in our education, and we are waiting in Serbia to move to a country where ours sporting activities and our future will be guaranteed. “
The general secretary of the Afghan boxing association, Waheedullah Hameedi, who also stayed in Belgrade, sees it similarly:
“When the Taliban regime came to power in Afghanistan, everything changed. It was difficult to get to the World Cup under the new regime and government.”
Boxing was banned in Afghanistan even before the American occupation during the earlier Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. Therefore, the boxers were already exposed to risks during training before the World Cup in Serbia. According to her statements, the preparations mostly took place in secret locations. The way to Belgrade and the international scene was not that easy – it first led them to Tehran, where they had received a visa for Serbia.
Although this phenomenon – that athletes decide to apply for asylum in the host country – was quite widespread during the Cold War, this is the first time that it has occurred in Serbia as an independent state.
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