UN Agencies, Embassies and Refugees Team Up for the 36th Belgrade Marathon, Featuring Fifth-Place Finish by Refugee Olympian
24 May 2023
Diar, a young asylum seeker from Afghanistan finds protection in Serbia amidst adversity and longs to belong.
Twenty refugees and asylum-seekers from all over the world volunteered to distribute water to the runners in 36th Belgrade Marathon on 23 April. All of them were all special in their own way. But one of them was more special than others. Meet Diar – he believes he may be eighteen years old, but he is not sure since his date of birth is unknown. During the Marathon, he used crutches to keep him standing in the heat while handing out water bottles.
Diar [“eyesight” in Kurdish] arrived in Serbia from Iraq in early November. Not long after the arrival, he suffered major injuries when he was hit by a train, one night while talking to his mother on the phone. He shrugs his shoulders when he recants the story of his ordeal and simply says “I did not see the train coming”. Then he adds: “But I am ok now. I spent almost four months in the hospital, lost a leg, lost my spleen, broke some ribs, then suffered from appendicitis.” Finally, after many months, Diar found some peace, home, care and support in a Shelter for Children and Youth without Parental Care run by Jesuit Refugee Service on the outskirts of Belgrade.
In the meantime, Diar has decided to remain in Serbia and has officially applied for asylum. His biggest challenge, apart from his disability, is his current loneliness and isolation that stems from the fact that he speaks only Kurdish. For communication and getting to know about his new environment Diar relies on a sole compatriot in Belgrade who has meanwhile received international protection and a local nickname – “Boki”. Boki visits Diar once a week and spends a couple of hours with him chatting away in Kurdish. It becomes apparent through the conversation that Diar has never attended formal schooling and is semi-literate even in his mother tongue. When asked if he would not mind a local nickname too – maybe “Vid” which is the Serbian translation of his Kurdish name, Diar seems to like the idea.
Everything we know about Diar is thanks to his interpreter Boki whose real name is Karoh Pishtewan. Karoh was 16 years old when he arrived in Serbia in 2017, also from Iraq. His application for asylum in Serbia was accepted one day short of his 18th birthday. He currently works in a cafe in Belgrade, which he credits as key in his learning the local language and successful integration in the society. He quickly advanced in his career and now speaks fluent Serbian.
Diar looks forward to weekly visits by Karoh, for he can finally communicate in his mother tongue without major difficulties. Karoh often takes Diar out to play billiards and has introduced him to his friends and colleagues. Half-jokingly, Karoh says to Diar that his language skills would advance significantly if he were to meet a Serbian girl, which makes Diar blush instantly. Karoh’s intent to help his compatriot is very pronounced for he experienced similar difficulties only a few years back. Diar looks up to his friend and wishes to follow in his footsteps, in order to fulfil his goals and dreams as part of the Serbian society.
Serbian might just become the first language that Diar acquires the ability to read in, for he was proud to inform that he had just started learning it with the help of a teacher from the shelter, and “she tells him that he is doing well”. His sole friend and role model Karoh/Boki insists that Diar must not give up learning Serbian, for this will “open new doors for him”, he can start school. He might even join Karoh in working in a cool social café in downtown Belgrade once he is able to communicate with the locals a bit more and use the public transport.
Diar is eager to get out of the shelter more and to socialise, to work, to help, as he did in the Belgrade Marathon. His biggest hope is that the prosthetic leg which he will receive through the State health insurance scheme is coming sooner rather than later, since he will then be able to navigate the slopes and the hills of Belgrade’s old town, and hopefully play soccer again when he makes new friends. In a nutshell, Diar wants to belong..
Written by Vera Dragović-O’Donnell, Lidija Lazarević