Afghan refugee wants to fight for Slovenia in Olympics
Maribor – Mohammad Dawood Rezai left his home in Afghanistan at the age of 14. He could have hardly imagined then that almost seven years on his goal would be to appear in the Olympic boxing tournament for Slovenia, the country he had not heard of before arriving here in February 2016.
Mohammad says it is not easy to start from scratch abroad after you have been forced to leave your homeland. However, he has found safety in Slovenia and consolation in boxing. He is now training hard to be able to appear in the Olympics.
He left his home in December 2015. “The situation in Afghanistan worsened badly after 2014. The Taliban were gaining control, breaking into homes and forcing young boys to train with weapons in the mountains. My family didn’t want that and my father gave me the choice of staying or trying to leave Afghanistan. I decided to go,” Mohammad has told the STA.
He left with a group of 14 boys from his village, aged between 10 and 20. They paid some 3,000 euros for the journey his father arranged for. The journey took 45 days, taking them through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia and on to the EU.
“Frome Greece on, I didn’t know which country I was in. I never heard of countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina or Slovenia before,” he says, adding that they had no concrete destination in mind. “Our destination was a safe country, that’s all we were thinking of.”
They mostly travelled by bus or cars, hiked for eight hours over the snow-covered mountains on the border between Iran and Turkey, and crossed into Greece in a dinghy than carried more than 30 people, including children and women.
Travelling illegally was the only option. As an Afghan he would not get a visa in many of the countries on route and he did not have a passport. In his country the only ID is a piece paper with basic information. The paper was destroyed when they got soaked on the boat and they were left without IDs.
Mohammad arrived in Slovenia in February 2016 by train from North Macedonia when the international community intervened in the refugee wave. He does not know how the journey was organised, as his only choice was to go with the flow.
“All the minors had to stop in Slovenia. Out of the group of 14 boys who travelled from Afghanistan, nine of us arrived in Europe. Three of us stayed in Slovenia, the others headed on,” he said.
For two months he was accommodated in a crisis centre in Slovenj Gradec in the north and then for five months in Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. In the autumn 2016 all underage refugees and migrants were put up at a student dorm in Postojna, south-west of Ljubljana.
During his two-year stay in Postojna, Mohammad finished primary school. He then asked to go to secondary school in Maribor, where he completed a car mechanic course this year.
At first, his biggest problem was the language. Some of his schoolmates made him welcome and some “less so”. Looking back, he is grateful for all the support he received in Slovenia.
“It might have been easier if we had more contact with the locals. In the dorm we Afghans were always together, we only socialised with Slovenians at school, and even there we were mostly in the same groups. If we had more contact with Slovenians, we would have learnt Slovenian and Slovenian culture faster,” he says.
He started boxing in Postojna, also as a therapy. “Boxing was one of the reasons I wanted to come back to Maribor, because I got into contact with the Železničar Boxing Club. Igor Rašić is a great coach, everybody in the club welcomed me very well and the training really means a lot to me.”
He has boxed with the club in several European countries and now he sees it as his mission. “Boxing is the main thing in my life right now,” he says.
He competes in the Olympic class of up to 57 kilograms and like every other athlete his goal is to win an Olympic medal. “I’ve beaten everyone in Slovenia in my class. But the problem is citizenship. I can compete for Slovenia at smaller tournaments abroad but I’d need Slovenian citizenship for major tournaments and the Olympic Games.”
Currently, he has temporary residence permit in Slovenia. The only condition for citizenship that he has not met yet is two years of regular work and paying taxes in Slovenia. So he decided to get a job rather than pursue higher education.
He would like to stay in Slovenia. “Now I know the people, culture, language here, I’ve got a job and excellent conditions for training, I’ve found a flat with my flatmate and the landlord is really nice. I feel great in Maribor,” he said.
He is in contact with his family at home over the phone only. “The news is not good. Everyone is very disappointed and many friends have fled the country. My sister is crying because she can no longer study, and teachers lost their jobs. People are hungry and under constant control by the Taliban.”
One day he would like to return to Afghanistan, a wonderful country with rich history, culture and nature the image of which in the world he says is misrepresented by the Taliban, who are only a minority. He says he will not return until the Taliban are in power.
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