A cricket match organised by refugees to celebrate their release from nine years in detention drew widespread support, including from the Muslim Women’s Council of Victoria. The “first taste of freedom cricket match — game not over yet” was held on April 24 in Fairbairn Park in Ascot Vale.
The refugees had been brought to Australia under the now defunct Medevac laws had been locked up in the Park Hotel. Those playing hailed from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh where cricket is a popular sport.
Abbi, one of the match organisers, had been a professional player before having to flee. He told Green Left he had dreamed about “something that would bring all of us together” when finally released.
He said the match was named to draw attention to the hundreds of refugees who remain in detention and those who are still on temporary visas. “We are playing today to show solidarity with the people still locked up, offshore and onshore.”
Professional sports commentator Wes Cusworth entertained the crowd as the 15-over match between “Offshore Eleven” and “Green Strikers” was underway. Music blared through the speakers when boundaries were hit.
Offshore Eleven won the toss and elected to bat first. It lost a few early wickets, managed to score 120 but was all out in 15 overs. The Green Strikers chased down that score in 9 overs, with 4 wickets in hand, winning the game and the trophy!
Harrison Saffin–Keating won “best bowler” and Islam Jan won “best batter”. Human rights advocate Arnold Zable and Linda Cusworth from the Combined Refugee Action group Geelong presented the awards.
The Muslim Women’s Council of Victoria supplied food, allowing the refugees to break fast after the match.
Abbi, who has been given a “bridging visa” said: “The first thing I was told was that I can’t engage in any kind of study, which was something I was keen to do when I got my freedom here, because I could not complete back home.”
Temporary visas also disallow family reunions. “I have not seen my family in almost a decade and the visa I’ve been given still won’t let me see my family and loved ones,” Abbi said. “We got released after 9 years, with just 2 weeks accommodation and hardly any support to start our lives over.”
Yasir Hussain, who came on the same boat as Abbi, but was released four years ago was excited to be playing. He told Green Left: “It feels good to be standing on a big open field with a bat and a ball.”
Supporter Sahiba, who was score keeper during the match, said: “I hope that events like this are organised on a regular basis.”
Many attending the match were pleased to be able to meet the refugees after protesting outside the Park Hotel for months. One told Green Left: “We would only be able to wave to the detainees through the tinted windows. So it was great meeting them in person, seeing them out in the fresh air, happy and playing cricket — something they were denied for years.”