This time, running not from violence but for hope

Hong Kong: It is a simple act: pulling on running shoes and hitting the track — but for a group of refugees in Hong Kong it has become a lifeline as they face an agonising wait to find a new home.

Naina (L) runs on a running track with Virginie Goethals (R), in Hong Kong. Pic/AFP
Naina (L) runs on a running track with Virginie Goethals (R), in Hong Kong. Pic/AFP

Organisers say many in the "Free to Run" programme are torture victims. Running helps them recover from trauma — it also combats the mental toll of being stuck in limbo.

Hong Kong does not give refugees a permanent home in its own territory and they can spend years in the city, hoping to find sanctuary in a third country. In the meantime, they are unable to work because of government restrictions, and subsist on handouts from authorities and NGOs. "I don’t want to stay home, I want to be busy. Running has helped me move forward," says Naina, who has been in Hong Kong for 12 years after fleeing violence in her community in South Asia.

"Since joining the running programme I’ve lost weight and I feel stronger. I have more confidence to talk with people. Before I always hid myself," she said.

International charity Free to Run set up the running group a year ago, in collaboration with local NGO Justice Centre. "The goal of running is to empower them and offer them psychological support...running is just a very easy way to help them feel better," says Virginie Goethals, Hong Kong director of Free to Run, herself an ultra-runner.

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