Health, distraction and integration – the story of how Sayed ran a marathon

For asylum-seekers waiting to have their application processed, time can go by very slowly. One solution is to start running – far. Sayed from Afghanistan has become a regular sight as he runs along the town roads on Sweden’s High Coast – and now he has completed a marathon in solidarity with the world’s refugees.

Sayed loves to compete and participates in races as often as he can. As an asylum-seeker, he is waiting for his application to be processed. Running makes time go by easier and it helps him integrate into the Swedish society.

Crossing the finishing line like runners have done for more than a hundred years at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium. Sayedgholamhossein Hosseini just finished his marathon debut, and he did it in three hours, twenty minutes and forty seconds, a time that most runners would envy him.

“Finishing Stockholm Marathon was a great experience and participating in marathons is definitely something I want to continue doing,” says Sayedgholamhossein, or only Sayed, which is the name  friends and fellow runners use for the Afghan asylum-seeker.

Despite his impressive time, running is not something Sayed has been doing actively for more than one and a half year. It all started when he met with Inlöparna, a Swedish network of runners that use running as a tool for integration into the Swedish society. As a newly arrived asylum-seeker, it was precisely what Sayed needed.

“In my first months in Sweden, I went into a depression. Everything was uncertain and I was moving between different accommodations. There were conflicts all around me and I didn’t feel well.”

In December 2015, the month when Sweden is at its darkest, life became a little bit brighter for Sayed.

“When I moved to Härnösand, I got my own room and found Inlöparna,” Sayed says.

Since 2015, Inlöparna meets every Tuesday to run together. Everyone is welcome, and they have particularly succeeded in getting asylum-seekers on board. The founders of Inlöparna are confident that there is a need for more arenas where asylum-seekers can meet with local Swedes, and that this cannot wait until the asylum-seekers are through the asylum procedure. An active lifestyle also contributes to better psychical and mental health, which is important to Sayed.

“Starting running made me feel a lot better. Now I primarily run to stay fit and in good health, but in addition I want to become a better runner and, if possible, take it to a professional level.”

Sayed runs every day, sometimes for as much as three hours. When he is not running with one of the groups, he runs by himself. Sayed likes both. For the people living in Härnösand, he has become a regular sight along the town roads on Sweden’s High Coast.

Having an active life style is not new to Sayed. He was born in Afghanistan, but grew up in Iran, where boxing was his big passion. In Sweden, Sayed doesn’t box anymore and his focus has shifted to running. He is also waiting for a decision on his asylum application.

“It is very hard to wait and wait, and not receive any answer. Running makes it easier to cope with.”

Through donations, Inlöparna works to equip asylum-seekers with appropriate running gear and get together for other activities. They are working under the umbrella of Hej Främling, an organisation that works in many capacities to promote integration and social inclusion. Turning twenty this year, Sayed has plenty of years to develop as a runner. And in Sweden, he has found a safe environment where it is possible to start striving for his goals.


Together with more than 13.000 other runners, Sayed ran Stockholm Marathon on 3 June. Starting together with Rufat Safarli, an intern at UNHCR’s Regional Representation for Northern Europe, the two of them completed the marathon in the spirit of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees campaign.


Check out the full twitter story from the day here: