Sunday, 9 September 2012

The day I met fleeing afghan child refugees

I donned my cricket gear for the second time this summer. A charitable turnout of the Lord & Commons Cricket Club against the cricket mad youth of Afghanistan. Not an overseas junket but a put your hand in your pocket excursion to Surrey.

These young boys had swapped their war torn country averting torture and death for the terror of being trafficked half way around the world by unscrupulous gangs in the hope of reaching freedom.

Their journey had reached the child asylum refuge in London and the 'cricket for change' charity. Afghanistanis are mad on cricket. It's that colonial connection and there grasp of pigeon English that brings them to these shores rather than anywhere else. Colonial connections are the basis for most immigrants choice of destination.

Their reason for leaving is the violence and death. Often the reason is that their father has been executed for association or perceived collaboartion with ISAF forces and the eldest son is then also executed or mutilated to prevent them fulfilling the revenge of their fathers murderer. In such violent circumstances where their mother and siblings are also at risk they choose to abscond running a risk that the traffickers may abuse them along the way and they may never reach the end. Cooked in a truck, killed or abandoned. Many are forced to act as drug mules. Some do not make it. They arrive in the UK knowing they can never seek out their mother or their family for fear that those left behind will suffer retribution in Afghanistan. Some of the young boys who have made this incredible journey are as young as eleven.

For a nation lacking cricketing facilities, these enthusiastic young cricketers have a high degree of skill and play the game with impeccable manners and great courtesy. Their friendliness contrasts sharply with some of the worst of British youth.

I had the opportunity to speak to many of them at length during the break. They told me of life in Afghanistan. How much of it is peaceful. How ISAF were fighting the violent foreign fighters who had come to Afghanistan. People who would force young boys such as themselves to strap suicide jackets on as punishment for perceived collaboration with US and British forces.

I asked them about the Taleban, religion and their lives and their community amongst many other questions. It was a unique opportunity to gain an honest insight to life there in reality from people too young to anything other than candid and honest.

They all said they wanted to return to a peaceful Afghanistan. Cricket had brought us all together and it is just a shame it takes a piece of wood and leather to remind people of humanity, the violence of war and the price of religious extremism.