World Refugee Day – Hope Away from Home Part 2: The Stories of Ava, Negar and Arezoo

In the first part of the article, we were introduced to Francois, an incredibly resilient individual who, against all odds, found the strength to embrace hope. Now, our attention turns to the stories of three Afghan girls and young women, Ava*, 18 years, Negar*, 15 years, and Arezoo*, 13 years, who have sought refuge in Iran. These girls and young women, like many others who have endured years of discrimination due to a select few, continue to persevere while holding onto hope, not only for themselves but also for countless others facing similar challenges.

While Negar offers significant perspective, Ava and Arezoo share similar sentiments, expressing their concerns as well as their aspirations for a brighter future. Together, they form a collective voice that reinforces the importance of dreaming and striving for a better tomorrow.

*Disclaimer: Names have been modified; pictures from Rising Stars project

Please share your story – how and why did you become a refugee?

“I dislike war and discrimination. We Afghan immigrants are the result of a seventy- or eighty-year-long war in Afghanistan driven by power struggles and discrimination. The war for power and discrimination has compelled people to flee their homes and wander the world for decades. We have faced racial, religious, gender, and ethnic discrimination, along with gender violence. With the resurgence of the Taliban, these forms of discrimination have intensified, forcing us to flee our country and seek refuge in Iran.” – Negar

“The reason behind our migration is insecurity and the emergence of a terrorist group in Afghanistan,” says Arezoo.

Since settling in another country, have you encountered any challenges or difficulties, such as discrimination, exclusion, or violence?

“Iran has been hosting Afghan refugees for over four decades. During this time, Iran has provided services for migrants, but they generally handle migrants according to their own laws. Afghan immigrants and refugees have chosen this country as their residence due to the shared language, culture, and border with Iran. However, the presence of over five million Afghan immigrants in Iran has also posed challenges for the country, although it should not be seen as a societal problem. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the difficulties faced by immigrants in Iran. Our first challenge as immigrants is establishing our identity, especially for those who were born and raised in Iran and find themselves neither Iranian nor Afghan. Our second challenge relates to residency documents, which are often obtained through a cumbersome process. Lastly, health insurance poses a challenge as it tends to be expensive for us, even if available.”

What changes can be made to make life more comfortable and easier for refugees in Iran and around the world?

“By putting an end to war and discrimination, we can significantly improve the lives of all refugees worldwide, enabling them to return to their countries and live in peace, free from discrimination.”

Did you face any specific challenges or difficulties as a female refugee?

“Discrimination affects all refugees and immigrants, regardless of gender.”

What advice would you give to others facing similar challenges? What information or support would you have liked to receive when dealing with these difficulties?

“All refugees and immigrants should familiarize themselves with the laws pertaining to asylum and immigration before seeking asylum or immigration.”

Shifting focus to table tennis, you are part of the Dream Building Fund's Rising Stars project implemented by Spin Club. In what ways do you think table tennis has impacted your life? Do you have examples of how the sport has empowered you?

“We are members of the Spin Club. Exercise promotes health and well-being, which, in turn, positively influences various aspects of life. Sports are a universal language that transcends borders, skin color, ethnicity, language, and culture, allowing everyone to participate together. The fact that I play table tennis alongside other members, irrespective of nationality, has instilled courage and strength within me. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn table tennis and make good friends in this club.”

Ava reinforces this sentiment by saying, “Certainly, acquiring a skill through hard work and effort demonstrates strength. Table tennis has not only led me to prioritize my health, resulting in a 20 kg weight loss and a healthier lifestyle but has also boosted my self-confidence. Since joining the Rising Stars Project, I have gained better clarity about my goals and aspirations to excel in the future.”

Would you recommend other refugees to participate in table tennis? Why or why not?

“Yes, if other refugees like me can avail these classes free of charge, they will face fewer challenges in life and have easier access to exercise. I recommend sports to everyone, although not specifically table tennis. Perhaps each person has a unique interest or talent in a particular sport, or the necessary facilities for a specific sport. This is especially important for us, as we have limited facilities in Iran and may not have the means to afford learning table tennis.”

Would you like to share your knowledge and experiences in table tennis with other refugees who wish to use the sport as a means to improve their lives? If so, please elaborate.

“Yes, I like it a lot because sports help integrate a person or group into society. Sports programs help girls and families overcome the isolation they face in the first years as a refugee in a new country. As a refugee, I got a good feeling by playing table tennis and I want to inform others about this good feeling. It is very good and effective when we exercise together far away from ethnicity and nationality.” – Negar

“Yes, because I really have tried hard to get here, and always experiencing new skills can cause new changes and growth in us. Since I became a member of Spin Club and it has been proven to me, I can reach high levels in sports and science. So, I want also to help other refugees to feel how I feel now.” – Ava

What is one thing everyone can easily do to actively support refugees? Can table tennis or the broader sports community help?

“When we are not discriminated in the world in terms of nationality, ethnicity, skin color, gender, race, religion. If all people around the world live together with the same view, we will always be together in peace and tranquillity.” – Negar

“Supporting refugees and have opportunities to attend in national and international competitions would help us to feel less discrimination.” – Ava

What is your dream for the future?

“I prefer to use the term 'goal' instead of 'dream' as it signifies determination and stability. My primary goals include passing the university entrance exam, gaining admission to a reputable university in the field of digital animation, participating in national and world table tennis competitions, and eventually aiming for the Olympics. Lastly, I aspire to share the skills I have acquired with those in need in a more inclusive manner.” – Ava

“My wish is for war and discrimination to vanish from the world, allowing people to live in peace and tranquillity. As an Afghan girl, I aspire to pursue higher education and achieve academic excellence, enabling me to amass wealth to help girls worldwide, especially those suffering in my own country. I wholeheartedly pray for happiness, peace, and love to encompass the entire world, envisioning a future aligned with my ideals. Football is my passion, and I aim to become a successful football player. I hope that my country will eradicate discrimination, ensuring that girls are not forced to drop out of school and marry at a young age. I have a dream – a dream of freedom.” – Negar

Arezoo concludes by encapsulating the dreams of many: “I want to become a member of our national table tennis team.”


Thank you, to all three, for sharing those personal details, we salute your bravery and resilience. We wish you all the best and may your hopes and dreams come true. Hopefully, your story will inspire more people, no matter their background, because hope is what can unite us.

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