UNHCR – “Running helped me find myself”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Yonas Kinde has traded the cheers of crowds at international races for the sounds of nature at morning runs near his home in Luxembourg.
“I can run from my house to the forest immediately,” he said. “Running is important for me to renew my mind and to be in good physical and mental health. “
Five years after participating in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as part of the very first Olympic refugee team, Yonas now focuses his training around his other commitments: preparing for a diploma in pharmaceutical logistics and working in a hospital pharmacy that distributes vaccines against the covid19.
But long-distance running remains his passion. He rarely goes a day without training and only took a break last year when he contracted COVID-19 and had to isolate himself indoors.
“It was a difficult time…. I really missed training, ”he recalls. “I was supported by my friends, by phone, by video calls. They said: “We are with you”.
On World Refugee Day, June 20, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, calls on communities and governments to include people forced to flee in healthcare, education and sports.
Giving refugees the opportunity to get involved in sport can help them gain confidence and feel welcomed and included in their new communities.
“Sport gave me a family, not just in Luxembourg, but around the world.”
Many of the friends who have helped Yonas get through his COVID isolation and lockdown have been acquired through his love of the sport.
“Thanks to sport, I have met a lot of important people in my life,” he said. “Sport gave me a family, not just in Luxembourg, but around the world.”
Yonas started running as a teenager in Ethiopia in order to save money on his bus to buy sweets and snacks.
“I was running to school. On the way there and back it was 16 kilometers and I didn’t realize it was useful for the competition because I was running to get to school.
A teacher encouraged him to start the competition.
He fled his native Ethiopia and reached Europe in the winter of 2012 when he found himself in the small landlocked Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. After being granted asylum there in 2013, he became one of Luxembourg’s top marathon runners, winning titles in France and Germany.
Learning that he had been selected by the International Olympic Committee to be part of the refugee team for Rio 2016 was, he said, “a truly unforgettable moment.”
He competed in the men’s marathon and enjoyed spending time with the other refugee athletes in the Olympic Village. “It was very special,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, Yonas has not competed in international competitions since competing in the Tokyo Marathon in early March 2020, becoming the first refugee in the event’s history to compete as a runner of elite.
“I really miss my competitions,” he said. “I miss the cheers.”
Yonas now speaks Luxembourgish, as well as German, French and English. At the end of 2020, he became a Luxembourg citizen, seven years after having obtained asylum there.
“It’s a good thing for me, when I’m looking for a job, and also to integrate more with people. I can also represent Luxembourg in sport, ”he said.
“The refugee Olympic team is a symbol of hope.”
Now that he is no longer a refugee, he was not eligible to be part of the Olympic refugee team heading to Tokyo this summer, but he will support the 29 athletes announced by the IOC last week as part of the team.
“The Refugee Olympic Team is a symbol of hope…. for refugee athletes, but also for refugees around the world, ”he said. “My message to the team is to use this second chance to get medals and send a message that the world is on the side of the refugees.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, refugee doctors, nurses and pharmacists like Yonas have worked on the front lines to contain the spread of the virus, treat patients and help people get vaccinated.
“At this difficult time, it makes me happy to be able to contribute, to be able to do something for COVID patients,” Yonas said.
Having the opportunity to continue his education allows him to look to the future and acquire the skills he needs to give back to the country that gave him refuge.
One day, Yonas plans to offer training to newly arrived refugees in Luxembourg so that they can enjoy the same benefits as him.
“Running taught me to be stronger. Running has helped me integrate with people. And running helped me find myself, ”he said.
On this World Refugee Day, Yonas will organize a special training program while thinking of refugees around the world, especially children. “Now is the time to think about these people,” he said. “It’s a very special day.
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