'Holot World Cup': Asylum Seekers, University Students Coexist on the Pitch

Student: ‘The government throws them into Holot, and it’s important to us to show them not everyone is like that.’

The 'Holot World Cup' at Ben Gurion University, Thursday, January 14, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Asylum seekers from the open detention facility Holot and university students faced off on the soccer field Thursday as part of a tournament dubbed the “Holot World Cup.”

The match, organized by seven students from Ben-Gurion University’s Africa and Activism course, took place at the sports club in Be’er Sheva.

Organizers said the purpose was to find a common denominator that would crack the walls separating Israeli society from the asylum seekers.

“We chose soccer because it’s unifying, a kind of international language,” said one, Alon Ben Yosef. “And besides, they devour it.”

“It’s important for us to show the refugees that the government and the people aren’t the same,” he added. “The government throws them into Holot, and it’s important to us to show them not everyone is like that.”

This was the second match between the asylum seekers and the students. The first took place at Holot, and that time, the teams weren’t mixed. The 5-0 trouncing the asylum seekers gave the students may be why they decided on mixed teams for yesterday’s game.

“The importance of this project for us is beyond words,” said Omar, a 25-year-old asylum seeker from Sudan’s Darfur region, who organized the Holot players. “Through soccer, we learn about each other, with no walls between us.”

“The problem is that the government tells the public a different story than what’s really happening,” he continued. “It doesn’t tell them I came from a village in northern Darfur, that they killed my father and two of my friends and imprisoned me for eight years in a refugee camp. It’s important to us to tell about this at every opportunity.”

Asylum seekers must remain at Holot from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. and attend a daily head-count. Moreover, the facility is located far from other towns. The combination results in many asylum seekers staying at Holot all day.

Thus Moran Mekamel, who heads a student association for refugees and asylum seekers, said “The goal of the event is first and foremost to get these people out of that boring, cursed place called Holot.”

“There are people at Holot whose faces are normally grim and serious, but suddenly here, they laugh, dance with a flag in the stands and talk about soccer,” she explained.