Refugee athletes debut at Africa Championships

By Darren Allan


There is a common adage that goes: East or West, home is best.

Indeed, home is best. Everyone loves to return home after a day’s work. It is where the little ones prefer to rest during the school break. Here is the place that breeds family, the unit of society.

Now imagine you cannot go or return home. Some people are unfortunate not to see home for days, weeks, and some for years.

These are the emotions that refugees deal with every day, miles away from home. “It is not my plan but things just happened and I am a refugee,” narrated Joseph Ernesto.

Ernesto is one of the seven athletes to represent the Refugee Team at recently-concluded 21st Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria.

His parent home is in South Sudan but his second life is in Kakuma Refugee Camp located in northwestern Turkana County, Kenya.

This is where Ernesto nurtured his interest to the track with much technical assistance from the Tegla Loroupe Foundation.

He was then selected for his first international engagement to Asaba thanks to support from Confederation of Africa Athletics (CAA) and IAAF.

The middle-distance runner went through emotions when he lined-up for the men’s 800m first round at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.

“My heart was shaking,” Ernesto recalled, “But on remembering the coach’s word, I warmed up and didn’t fear,” he said while blending English with Swahili words.

He, however, was not delighted with his time of 1:55.20 over the two-lap race. “I am not okay with my time. I want to bring a better time in the next events,”

“It is the first time to interact with other people (in front of the spectators). May be next time, I shall have better time,” noted the form two student from Ngong Open Learning Secondary School in Nairobi’s Kajiado County.

Ernesto’s dreams are bigger than his love for chemistry. “I would love to be at the Olympics (in 2020). My prayer is that South Sudan gets peace so that Africans elsewhere can visit us as well. I would love to return home and be an ambassador to my country and help people,” he added.

Unlike Ernesto, his 800m compatriot Pur Biel has been to the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the Asian Indoor Games in Turkmenistan last year.

He did not benefit much from his experience but running alongside Kenya’s star runners Ferguson Rotich and Emmanuel Korir will bolster his career.

“I improved a lot but not so much as I expected,” he said. “When I ran with Rotich and Korir, I only saw that they are human beings like me. It gave me determination. It gave me hope that I can make it in life.

Biel’s message to the world is touching: “We need to support our fellow refugees. They didn’t choose to be refugees. To involve them, it gives us room that we can do better,

“It shows that we can be part of peace promotion in the world. We can never know the situation today. Let’s define the word refugee better. Even in football, we can be allowed to participate.

“As you know home is the best. I wish one day, one time, I can go back to my country. And it is us who can go back to our county and bring peace to the nation,” added Biel who is also a UNHCR high profile supporter and board member for the Refugee Olympic board.

800m: Joseph Ernesto
800m: Pur Biel
800m: James Changjiek
1500m: Paulo Amotun
5000m: Dominic Lokinyomo
5000m: Bul Ukuk
Javelin: Chajen Dang (female)

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