Running for a reason: refugees race in Hong Kong

Participants set off from the starting line during the RUN Charity Race, held in support of refugee rights, in Hong Kong on November 10, 2018. VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP

Refugees took to Hong Kong’s trails Saturday in one of the newest fixtures in the city’s busy race calendar as they carve out a place in its running community.

Hong Kong does not give refugees a permanent home in its own territory and they can spend years hoping for sanctuary in a third country, with most cases unsuccessful.

In the meantime they are unable to work because of government restrictions and subsist on handouts from authorities and NGOs in a city with spiraling living costs.

But they have been embraced by Hong Kong’s tight-knit trail running community and regularly compete on its mountainous routes.

Saturday’s RUN charity race said refugees had been instrumental in organizing the event as well as competing in it.

Now in its second year, 25 refugees, mainly from Africa, lined up in a field of more than 300 people who were running either 14-kilometer or 19-kilometer distances.

“I love running — if I have any opportunity to do it, I don’t hesitate,” African refugee and competitor Ali, 35, told AFP.

“It makes me feel free, have less stress and be healthy.”

Another African refugee and runner Sam, in her 40s, said the sport was “in her blood” and RUN had given her the opportunity to do it in Hong Kong.

“It makes us feel like we are accepted, it makes us feel like we have another community apart from what we left back home,” she said.

RUN says it seeks to help refugees over trauma through sport as well as providing education and training.

“When people run alongside refugees, people realize they’re normal people like you and me — all the barriers fall away,” said co-founder of the NGO, Virginie Goethals.

“Sport and nature is really a human equalizer,” she added.

Hong Kong resident Joyce Li, 35, who was running Saturday, said she was aware refugees had a “hard time” in the city and wanted to support them.

There are around 6,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million.

“They are always unfairly being associated with human trafficking or abusing welfare,” Li said.

An international refugee Olympic team made a historic debut in Rio in 2016 and a refugee team will again compete at the Games in Tokyo in 2020.

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