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Afghan refugees find safe space with daily soccer games at Austin park

Soccer has always been a way of life for this group of men. The fact that they now gather every night to play in Austin represents their search for a better life.

AUSTIN, Texas — For a group of men that gathers every weeknight at Gillis Neighborhood Park in South Austin, soccer is a way of life.

Whether they're speaking in their native tongue – either Pashto or Dari – or translating for an English-speaking crowd, the ball transcends borders and barriers. 

It's a way of life that, in Austin, represents the search for a better life.

"Roughly, we are around 25 to 30 people. We have a group. It's all Afghans," said Ramin Mohamand, who moved to the U.S. five years ago.

The men are Afghan refugees.

"And we are coming here together to just practice soccer," Mohamand said.

Each of them fled home to protect their lives.

"I used to work with the U.S. Army back in Afghanistan as a U.S. translator," Mohamand said. "Your life becomes in danger. So we had an opportunity of an SIV, so I applied for an SIV to come to the USA."

Credit: KVUE
Ramin Mohamand played on a select soccer team while living in Afghanistan.

Mohamand's Special Immigrant Visa allowed him to escape persecution in Afghanistan but also forced him to assimilate to a new way of life.

"When you go from your own country and you live in a different country with a different environment, different culture and different things, you will face a lot of challenges," he said. "I resettled my life here in Austin and the United States. That makes me feel like I have to help these new Afghans who are arriving."

Mohamand is referring to a recent influx of refugees.

"Some of our new arrivals, they don't speak English," he said.

One of those people is 27-year-old Nesarahmad Kiliwal. He moved to Austin a few months ago after U.S. military forces left Afghanistan. He's now trying to learn a new language in hopes of one day becoming a bilingual journalist.

"I appreciate Ramin and all my Aghan brothers who have helped me. They are guiding me. I have studied and have learned a lot," he said through Mohamand, who was translating to English.

This band of brothers feels a responsibility to each other. And, through a game, they've found a home – the life they were looking for.

"Soccer is the most special thing, and we feel like we're playing in our country," Mohamand said.

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