BBC Sport: Serbia’s migrant cricketers

Serbia Cricket

Afghan and Pakistani migrants watch a tape cricket tournament in the Obrenovac refugee camp, outside Serbia’s capital Belgrade. ©James Montague

Last month I did my first cricket story. But as with most stories, it wasn’t so much about the sport but the incredible stories of the people who play them.

A few years ago Serbia was at the heart of the refugee crisis that saw thousands pass through here, trying to reach Western Europe. Few had any intentions of staying in Serbia, they were merely passing until they could cross the border with Hungary near the city of Subotica, which had no fence or border guards to stop them.

But the Western Balkan route is now effectively closed. Fences have been erected in Croatia and Hungary.  It is virtually impossible to cross now. One unintended consequence is that thousands of people are now trapped in Serbia; unable to go to Western Europe, but too broke or scared to go home. Most are Afghans, some Pakistanis from its restive and dangerous tribal areas.

They mainly live in three major refugee camps and to pass the time they play the national sport: cricket. Enter the Serbian Cricket Federation and its general secretary Vladimir Ninkovic who goes into the camps to give these young men and unaccompanied children something they crave: organised cricket matches with kit and an umpire.

I followed Vladimir as he went from camp to camp, doing more good work than I think he realised.

I made this for the BBC World Service’s Stumped! programme. You can listen to some of the refugees’ incredible stories, and how cricket is helping them come to terms with their new lives.

But I also wrote a lengthier piece for the BBC Sport’s website about finding cricket thriving in a country where no one knows the rules.

Apart from Vlad and his teammates, of course…

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