The statistics on the refugee crisis are horrendous. The death rate for migrants attempting to reach Europe has risen even though the number of people trying to make the crossing has fallen. While in 2017, there was one death for every 42 migrants attempting the crossing, for the same period in 2018 the number is one death for every 18. More than 1.600 people have died or gone missing this year.
Meanwhile, there are over 4.000 refugees amassed in the island of Samos, of whom 3.817 are piled up in a facility meant for 648 people. In Lesbos, too, 10.454 migrants, mostly having arrived from the Turkish coast, are packed in the camp of Moria (and this is just in Greece—I didn’t check the numbers for Italy and Spain, where lots of people cross over from Libya.)
However, in a few cases, there can be a happy ending. It is from the Lesbos hotspot that young Christ Wamba has moved to the basketball courts of Aris, a top class team based in Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. He was introduced to the public as their newest player, to enthusiastic applause, at this season’s opening ceremony. ‘His life could be made into a film,’ said the presenter.
The not-quite-18-year-old lived with his family in the Congo until three years ago. Their situation was dire—he often had to go to bed on an empty stomach. He loved basketball, but knew he had to leave home to achieve his dream. At 15, he crossed half of Africa alone, and managed to arrive in Turkey after many adventures. From there, he found himself confined in the Lesbos camp, where he remained for a year and a half. It was there he met social worker Michael Poulimas, member of an NGO looking after unaccompanied children on Lesbos. Michael managed to get him into an apartment with some other youths, and observed his passion for basketball—Christ could seldom be seen without a ball in his hand, and lost no opportunity to play.
Michael helped him make an asylum claim, and in 2017, he was moved to another camp, in Sindos, in northern Greece. There, George Balogiannis, head coach of the local basketball team, noticed his talent and took him on. Christ started practicing for 8 hours per day, in order to improve and take his skills to a new level.
Meanwhile, a teammate had helped him post his profile on Athlenda, a worldwide basketball network site known for the discovery of new talent. And the rest, as they say, is history. When Christ applied for a job opening with Aris, a well known northern Greek team, the head coach recognized his unique talent, and he earned his spot on the roster. He started training with the squad a few months ago (the deal was officially announced earlier this week).
A fairytale come true and an inspiration for other kids hoping to attain their dreams. However, one cannot help but wonder how many people with similar talents and ambitions still remain stuck, with little hope for the future.