Afghan boxers stranded in Serbia appeal to the international community for help to avoid deportation

Twelve Afghan boxers and the General Secretary of the Afghan Boxing Federation are stranded in Serbia, awaiting help from abroad. Those who went to Belgrade to participate in a championship in late October refused to return to their country for fear of retribution from the Taliban.

“We ask the international community to protect us.” Wahidullah Hamidi finds it difficult to hide his concern. Reached by phone, the Afghan Boxing Federation general secretary is stranded with 12 athletes in Belgrade, Serbia, and fears returning to Afghanistan, where the Taliban seized power last August.

His team arrived in the Serbian capital on 23 October to play matches at the amateur world championship created by the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) to allow athletes unable to represent their country to participate in the competition.

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The flight from Kabul was not without difficulties. With an out-of-pocket Iranian visa paid to an intermediary, the delegation tries to fly to Tehran but is unable to find the plane ticket. She rents a car, crosses the border and manages to reach the Iranian capital. Then he applied for a visa to Belgrade at the Serbian Embassy. After waiting for two days, players get precious moles with the help of federations and can participate in the championship.

“In Afghanistan, we fear for our lives”

After a fight in Serbia, the boxers are with the airport but refuse to return to Afghanistan for fear of retaliation. “The Taliban consider this game against Sharia law” [la loi islamique, ndlr], Before we came to Belgrade, players lived in hiding and trained in secret. The Taliban came several times to pick me up from my house, but I managed to escape from them. Since we left, our families have received threats,” said Waheedullah Hamidi, whose father, a former president of the Afghan Boxing Federation, was killed by the Taliban with 14 bullets in the head in 2019.

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The delegation therefore requested an extension of his visa to the Serbian authorities, who refused. Instead, players are given the obligation to leave the field by November 28. “The deadline is soon over, we don’t know what to do,” says the secretary general.

“We are stuck here. We cannot return to Afghanistan because we fear for our lives. We cannot stay in Serbia because we do not have the authority to do so. We are eagerly waiting for answers from abroad”, Taufiqullah Soleimani, member of the national boxing team for six years.

The group asked several countries to evacuate, but faced denials from Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Sweden and Canada. France, Italy and Spain have yet to respond to his request for protection.

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