Bangkok – A group of Pakistani refugees stand in position in a small sheltered cricket field in Bangkok. The bowler throws the ball forcefully. The batsman hits it hard and runs to the other side of the field. He scores! His team cheers.
Playing cricket is a joyful outlet for a group of Pakistani refugees who have lived in Bangkok for years. It is a time when the men can forget that they are refugees.
Cricket is part of a community outreach program launched by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Thailand to help refugees deal with stress. Initiated in 2018 by the JRS’s Psychosocial Community Unit, the programme promotes refugees’ participation in sports. Through JRS sports activities, refugee men living throughout Bangkok come together to relieve stress by having fun.
“These men are staying in their rooms, depressed, without the right to work, and fearful about their legal status. Playing cricket gives them an opportunity to meet each other. It creates stronger bonds in the community,” says Joseph, a Pakistani who helped organise the cricket matches.
Thailand is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, and does not yet have its own refugee legislation. Therefore, all refugees, asylum seekers, and other undocumented persons living in Thailand are at risk of arrest by Thai immigration police.
“I’m grateful for the support JRS provides us. Playing cricket definitely helps us to cope with tension and stress. It’s relaxing and refreshing,” says Joseph.
According to the United Nations, sports can have a positive influence on the development of human rights, as well as on social and economic development. The UN General Assembly has declared April 6th as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. This day aims to bring goodwill and positive social outcomes to all through sporting activities.
“Sport has the capacity to empower individuals and bring one’s moral values to the forefront. It can play a strategic role in transferring life skills and communicating useful, encouraging messages on important issues, thus driving social change. This new commemoration on the international calendar will further promote the value of sport as a catalyst for development and peace,” says Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace.
Pakistani refugee men show their interest in playing cricket because cricket is commonly played in Pakistan and is the most famous sport amongst Pakistanis. The participants are eager to play. This sport activity greatly benefits the participants both mentally and physically.
It is not wrong to say that cricket is a safe haven for Pakistani refugee men where they can seek refuge from stress and depression associated with their daily experience as refugees.