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Turkey: Football Provides Brief Relief for Hard-Pressed African Migrants

Players with the Nigeria and Cameroon teams shake hands before the start of the opening game in the soccer tournament. (Photo: Alexander Christie-Miller)

At a rundown football stadium in Istanbul, Nigerian team members huddled together to say a prayer as they prepared to take on Cameroon. A star-and-crescent Turkish flag fluttered above them in the late afternoon breeze, a couple of hundred African fans were in the stands and, outside, a group of curious Turks looked on as the city’s own version of the Africa Cup of Nations got under way.

Now in its 10th year, the two-month-long competition aimed to bring together Istanbul’s black community: a mixture of refugees and migrants, among them many aspiring footballers lured to Turkey in the false belief that this is an easy place to make it.

“My dream is to become a famous player,” said Sony Olabisi, an 18-year-old Nigerian, his eyes glued to the game.

Olabisi arrived in Turkey about 10 months ago with a group of 15 teenagers from different African countries. They all fell victim to a scam after paying as much or more than $3,500 each to a false agent. Believing that trials and professional football awaited them, they instead found themselves abandoned in the city with no money or documentation allowing them to play.

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Turkey: Football Provides Brief Relief for Hard-Pressed African Migrants

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