Life Beyond Tennis

Being a Refugee in junior tennis: 10 things to hate, 5 things to love (Part 1)

Sashka on the practice

What does it mean to raise a junior competitive tennis player who is a refugee? Well, it has its “pros and cons” – as many other things in our life. In this article (first of several) I’ll tell you in general what our family has experienced for 5+ years of being refugee tennis parents.

10 things to hate

1. You can be stopped, delayed or detained at the border control of any country.

A refugee passport is a suspicious document by default.  So be ready to be stopped & searched through.

In 2013, when we travelled with National Team of Croatia to Junior European Cup in Ankara, Turkey, we were detained by Turkish SWAT police in Istanbul! The whole team saw this, it was so humiliating. The team departed without us, as we had to spend two hours in a police office. Fortunately, we were provided with an opportunity to fly by next flight.

We were also stopped & searched through in Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin… Personally I can live with this, but every detention is a big shock for Sashka.

2. You will never obtain a visa. Technically – to anywhere.

A refugee, even if recognized & permanently resided in its asylum country, has very small chances to obtain visa to USA, UK, Australia etc. If we speak about tennis, Sashka is unable to reach 3 of 4 countries where Grand Slams taken place!

During these 5 years we had only one exclusion: in 2013, after several refusals, in last moment, Sashka (that time 12 years old kid!) did obtain 1-entrance, area-restricted visa to U.S. to play Global Nike Masters Final – after winning Croatian national selection. It became reality after several refusals and my intention (sounded in U.S. consulate office in Zagreb) to send an open letter to Mrs. Michelle Obama regarding discrimination of refugee kids by U.S. Embassy in Croatia.

If you bear a refugee passport, you are a semi-human for most consulates of the world, specially for developed countries. Period.

3. You do not have any financial assistance from the state.

I believe that in other countries situation is different. But in Croatia you do not have ANY material assistance from the government. I do not mean “monthly payments” – I believe adult and healthy men & women must work & earn for living of their families. But what if you are sick? Injured? A kid is sick, so you can’t work for a while?

For 5 years in Croatia, we have not got any money from the state. Any! But the worst is nobody (from the state) had ever asked us whether we need some help or assistance. If we die tomorrow in hunger and sickness nobody from Croatian authorities will notice that.

WHAT’S IN IT ABOUT TENNIS: you are never secured. Whether your kid winning or losing, you should all the time think how to survive.

4. You do not have access to simple services open for “real” citizens.

We can not borrow money in the bank (even when we have salaries & deposit). We can not lease a car. We can not make many things, which are daily & natural for many “real” citizens.

WHAT’S IN IT ABOUT TENNIS: if somebody is on the go – let’s say, on tennis tournament – he/she can use a credit card balance to pay for tickets, accomodation, food etc. We can’t do it.

5. When you meet the state machine, it always makes you wrong.

There is a big difference between “real” citizens and refugees in their relations with state bodies. First, a CITIZENSHIP. A citizenship can not be stopped or revoked; a refugee status can! So you can not actively protect yourself if you disagree with something a custom officer, policeman or other state serviceperson made about you – because you are afraid.

Second & third – language and law juggling. A state officer will all the time be better-equipped with laws & instructions than you. You can’t do nothing with it.

WHAT’S IN IT ABOUT TENNIS: During 2016, the main transport to travel tennis tournaments within Europe was our car. Sometimes we slept in it. Sashka played under Croatian flag, and for the honor of Croatia. Now Croatia wants to seize our car, and already assigned me a penalty which I will never be able to pay in my whole life. I think it is a complete mistake & stupidity, but who the hell cares what the rightless refugee thinks?

Instead of providing us with a transportation assistance to reach tournaments & play for the honor of Croatia, the state wants to seize our car!

6. You’ll never get a pension (or any other retirement payments).

Sashka is giving her best for the country; will the country give something back to Sashka?

Sashka is giving her best for the country; will the country give something back to Sashka?

It sounds incredible… but it is true. Croatia does not pay pensions to refugees. At the same time, we pay pension taxes in the same way like locals.

WHAT’S IN IT ABOUT TENNIS: How can we openly & honestly concentrate on a competitive sportsperson preparation if we now that in several years the state will leave us & forget about us? What our motivation should be?

7. You are all the time an “alien” for local community, government & media.

For many years of Sashka’s living & playing in/for Croatia, our local newspaper, “Glas Istre”, has never wrote a word about her sport achievements. Never ever! Those achievements include National Championships, European Team Competitions and high-profiled international tournaments. At the same time, local media are daily writing a lot about village-vs.-village competitions in bowls, alpine walking and other strange sports :).

8. You can’t find a sponsor – nobody wants to sponsor a refugee girl.

It is so simple in Croatia – if you speak with an accent, you’ll never obtain a sponsorship.

9. You do not have a place to talk about your problems.

Local people all the time have a place to come in & share their thoughts, ideas & problems. They can go to a community club, old friends family or local bar which they attend for many years. We do not have the same opportunity. We are facing all our problems completely alone (excluding a very few really devoted local friends). It would be nice to have an organisation, or a program, which helps refugees to overcome their difficulties with consultation, advice or simply a kind word. But no such an organisation.

10. People start bullying you if you say something critical about your stance in Croatia.

They can criticize their country – you don’t. Because you are a refugee, and you must be silently thankful for ages that you were accepted to stay, not thrown out.

Yes, we are thankful. We are trying to say this “thanks!” again and again, with Sashka’s daily perfomance.

But nobody can forbid us to search for a better destiny, if we fill ourselves completely lost and forgotten here.

P.S. Not everything is so sad; there are some bright & funny moments in being a tennis refugee. We will tell about them in the next article…

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