Refugee athletes prepare to compete at Asian Games in Turkmenistan, as Opening Ceremony takes place
I am representing not just the refugees in Africa, but the refugees in the entire world.
Refugee athletes from Kenya are in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, ahead of the Asian Games 2017, which start in the capital, on Monday.
The five athletes competing are Pur Biel and Gai Nyang Tap who will compete in the 800 metres. Wiyual Deng, who will run in the 400 metres. And Paulo Amotun and Ukuk Uthoo who will compete in the 1500 and 3000 meters respectively.
They are all originally from South Sudan and have been living in Kenya as refugees.
The athletes are thrilled to have made it to Ashgabat. The Games are the biggest sporting event in the history of Central Asia. There will be more than 6000 athletes and sports officials attending from more than 60 countries.
Refugee athletes first won global attention when they took part in the Rio Olympics in Brazil in 2016. That was the first time in Olympic history that refugees formed at team, under the banner Team Refugees.
Pur Biel was there. The 22-year old is hoping to make his mark again in Ashgabat. He says he wants to show the potential refugees have to compete in professional sport.
‘When you participate in this event it shows that, refugees are human beings like other people.’
“We as refugees can do something. We can contribute through sport. Most refugees lose hope. Its not easy to be called a refugee. When you participate in this event it shows that, refugees are human beings like other people. Sport unites people, and we as refugees we have a chance to unite people.”
Gai Nyang Tap, aged 25, has been training hard for Asia. He competed in the World Athletics Championships Relays in the Bahamas earlier this year. So this is his second international competition.
Gai is hoping to improve on his current best time in Asia, and progress through the heats.
“This word refugee is what made me to be here – because I am representing not just the refugees in Africa, but the refugees in the entire world.”
“Some people they think negatively. Thinking that refugees cannot do anything, which is wrong. Refugees can do something. Seeing me on the track running, I hope it will give people motivation and they will consider it’s something amazing.”
Five South Sudanese refugee athletes have arrived from Kenya to participate in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG), taking place in Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat.
Gai Nyang stretches in his room before training UNHCR/P.Wiggers
Competing in Asia is a huge opportunity the athletes say. The team have been supported by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in Kenya and UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency.
The Foundation has been working to develop refugees into professional sports men and women since. There are currently 23 being trained in Kenya.
Good luck Team Refugees!