REPORTING. “Sport is my struggle, my way of resisting,” said Fathima, an Afghan karateka who lives in the Lesvos refugee camp.

Invisible, or almost. Refugee women represent barely 20% of the sportspeople registered by the association Yoga and Sport With Refugees on Lesvos (Greece). However, they are often the first to benefit from sport because of its health, well-being or even inclusion implications. Near the Mavrovouni camp, the sports association wants to support them, both in their daily practice and towards the top level.

“The Taliban forbade women to train, play sports, improve their living conditions, study. They did not give us the right to leave our homes. It became very dangerous, so we fled with my family “explains Fathima Mirzahi, karateka. Serious face, almond-shaped eyes, tight shirt and impeccable appearance, the young woman has been living in the Mavrovouni camp, in Greece for six months.

Right, Fathima Mirzahi trains to practice her karate moves, May 22, 2022. (Louise Le Borgne)

At the age of 15 she had to leave everything behind. I trained every day in Afghanistan, I competed internationally in Pakistan, Tajikistan, India. All I want is to go to a country where I can practice my passion.” adds the young lady.

“Sport is my struggle, my way of resisting. I want to make my family and my country proud. I want to participate in the Olympic Games for Afghanistan.”

Fathima Mirzahi, refugee

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According to the latest United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report, dated June 16, 2022, p.Nearly 2.7 million Afghans live outside their country with refugee status. Fathima, she still lies patiently amid the white tents of the Mavrovouni camp, accepting her refugee status.

EWhile awaiting her return to the world circuits, the young woman made it a point of honor to maintain her education. As soon as she arrived on the island, she rushed to the nearest gym. Ehe shares it from now on her acquaintances with the other women, over the course of karate

“Saaaaah! Stronger! Upstairs!“, Fathima’s cries resound in the small gymnasium. The doors are closed, a sign has slipped at the entrance: “Only women are allowed”. The poster has in turn been translated into English, Arabic and Farsi. In order to attract more women to its activities, the Yoga and Sport with Refugees association has developed activities exclusively reserved for them. †It’s important to me. I’ve always trained like that and otherwise I wouldn’t be sure.” Fatima explains.

Warm-up for women's karate class at the gym Yoga and Sport With Refugees, May 23, 2022. (Louise Le Borgne / Franceinfo:sport)

“Of course all activities are open to everyone, but for cultural reasons Afghan women are not used to training with men and can be bullied when they return to the camp. So that they can practice a physical activity with confidence, we have set up these courses, intended for women, in karate and swimming,” explains Estelle Jean, director of the Yoga and Sport With Refugees association.

Fathima Marzahi is a hopeful Afghan karate.  The arrival of the Taliban disrupted her daily life and the young woman had to flee with her family.  She now lives in the Mavrovouni camp, in Lesvos, where she is trying to continue her education while waiting for her papers.

This Saturday morning two more women came to karate class† Difficult to keep up with the pace of the high-level uncompromising athlete† †Wow, that hurts a bit.” Rebecca reacts upon cashing Fathima’s lightning bolt in her boxing mat. In her twenties, the young woman from Ethiopia came to “get back in shape”† She has been traveling the Mediterranean roads for a year now Aside from the physical practice, Rebecca says she enjoys doing it looking for other women” with whom you can exchange in a serene atmosphere.

“The gym allows them to do activities that are important to them in a more protected place than the camp. Here their health improves, they can breathe”, adds Nina From Winterco-founder of the association. Bijou, a Cameroonian refugee, confirms her words and highlights the daily difficulties that hinder her practice: “I don’t mind it being between women, but for me it’s mostly a matter of niche. I don’t come often, so after the fitness class I moved on to karate. When I leave the camp, I have to fetch food, work, take care of daily life. I can only come here on weekends.” the young woman in pink tights blows on a weight machine.

“I would like to resume training and become world champion. But there is no one here at my level”

Fathima Marzahi, high level refugee athlete

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The gym of the association is equipped: sports bras, leggings and T-shirts are neatly ordered at the entrance, available for sportswomen. But when it comes to karate kimonos and appropriate protection, the equipment is lacking. It is therefore in leggings that the young woman manages the warm-up and the exercises in a mixture of Farsi, Japanese and a few words of English. †These lessons clear my head, but I wish there were more people, more opposition and more material”the young woman grinned. The sportswoman therefore fights against herself, staring at her reflection in the mirror, which returns a warrior face. The face of an exile.

Fathima Mirzahi, Afghan refugee, warms up on the island of Lesbos, May 23, 2022. (Louise Le Borgne)

If Fathima is the only high-level sportswoman in karate, the association, for its part, registers more and more women in its courses, mixed or not: “It is related to the end of Ramadan, the beautiful weather but also the work of a volunteer who made sure that the women came to the gym”, emphasizes Estelle Jean, before concluding: “The goal is to play sports together, have this physical and moral breath, erase all cultural differences and gender stereotypes and support sportswomen like Fathima as much as possible in their sporting ambitions”. And why not until the Olympics, when karate returns there.