Saturday, June 15, 2024

Homeless asylum seekers find ‘happiness’ at sunny cricket session at Railway Union Cricket Club

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Gurwaz (21), fled the Taliban and survived a journey on foot and by road through Iran and Turkey. He crossed the Mediterranean in a dinghy and travelled across Europe, before spending four months in a tent on Dublin’s streets, including during the snow in early March.

In recent days, under bright May sunshine, he found “happiness” on the cricket pitch in Sandymount, Dublin.

Now accommodated in Crooksling, southwest Dublin, the Afghan was one of over 30 asylum seekers who responded to an invitation from Railway Union cricket club to use the greens, practice the sport and perhaps join the club.

“I played cricket so much times in Afghanistan,” he said. From Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan he described how he and his childhood friends used to gather in the evenings in his native village. “Then we make two teams and we play cricket. Yeah, I really miss playing cricket.”

While most who came to bat and bowl were experienced cricketers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh – countries with long traditions of the game, some men from Nigeria – fathers living with their wives and children in accommodation in nearby Ballsbridge – came “to give it a try”.

The initiative to invite asylum seekers to the greens was prompted by volunteers supporting asylum seekers who noted many missed playing their national sport. The volunteers contacted cricket clubs, asking if the men could use their pitches. Railway Union responded immediately.

Club batsman and former Irish international Kenny Carroll didn’t hesitate. “It’s a duty of a sports’ club to represent your community and include everyone in it,” he said. “There are a lot of people coming into Dublin at the moment and the best thing is to try to help integrate them. Today we have asylum seekers down to the club to do a bit of hardball and tape-ball cricket into the nets.” The club has provided cricket equipment but volunteers are fundraising for suitable kits, including trainers, joggers and T-shirts and hoodies.

The club had been founded in 1914, continued Mr Carroll, and among its first and most successful members was Louis Bookman, the son of a Jewish refugee family from Lithuania fleeing religious persecution. He went on to play cricket for Leinster and Ireland, and football for Shelbourne, Bradford City and Luton Town football clubs, and for Ireland.

“So, from the very start of the club, people from different backgrounds and nationalities have been very welcome at and played for Railway,” he said.

Asked if any of the men might become Railway players, he said: “I’ll be keeping an eye on them all right.

“Look, there are about 45 cricket clubs in Leinster. I’d say all have players from the Asian countries – Afghanistan, Paskistan, India. We need them. The passion they have for cricket is hard to put into words. The Afghanis play differently [to Europeans]. They are fearless and passionate and play with a real joy.”

Muhammad Naeem (26), from Afghanistan, sheltered for three weeks by the Grand Canal. He was among those bussed to accommodation during a multiagency clearance of over 150 men more than a week ago.

“I come today to enjoy the cricket. We are very fond of cricket in Afghanistan. There I played for the local club. It is very good for our mental health.” Asked if he would like to play for Ireland he smiles: “Yes. Why not? Of course. I love and want to play for Ireland.”

Luckman (19), from Pakistan, is now in accommodation in City West. He played cricket in school and college. “I came today just to refresh myself. There is nothing to do in Citywest. Mentally we are just getting stuck there, so this is a good place to come.”

Mr Carroll hoped the initiative would become a regular fixture in the club’s weekly programme, a sentiment echoed by Gurwaz. “We were very happy with this experience. It brings us a lot of happiness. We are very grateful. Everyone wants to build their own country but for us is not possible now because we had to come here.

“I want to get education and then I want to give in return for Ireland. I will be a GP or doctor for Ireland. If they allow me play cricket for Ireland I would like to play.”

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