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Elite cyclist to lead London race while living in asylum hotel
Cycling Sport

Elite cyclist to lead London race while living in asylum hotel

One of Ethiopia’s elite female cyclists will be pedalling at the front of one of London’s biggest bike races next month while living in an asylum seeker hotel on less than £10 a week.

Trhas Teklehaimanot Tesfay, 22, rode a bicycle for the first time when she was 13 years old. She has achieved success in a range of competitions such as the African Continental Championships and the national championships of Ethiopia.

While in her home country, the gold-medal-winning cyclist had been offered opportunities to compete in elite international competitions in countries including Spain and Switzerland, but was not granted visas to attend.

Her country has been embroiled in a drawn-out conflict with western Tigray and, because of the dangerous conditions there, she fled to the UK last year where she claimed asylum.

The Home Office has placed her in a hotel for asylum seekers in west London where meals are provided and where she stores her racing bike in the hotel’s laundry room. She receives £8.86 a week for other essential expenses.

Tesfay said it was very difficult to pursue her dreams of success at the highest level as an elite cyclist while living in these conditions. She became tearful when talking about the dangerous situation she fled from in Ethiopia and said her passion for cycling was what keeps her going while she is in a distressed state.

“I try to cycle for six or six and a half hours a day, six days a week,” she said. “When I’m on my bike I can switch off from all my problems. When I’m cycling it’s just me and the bike. If I can’t cycle, I’m just stuck in my room and my anxiety increases.”

She said she was unable to eat the food in the hotel as it made her sick. She tries to survive on rice and pasta but is not getting the nutrients she needs to give her the best chance of success in competitions.

Tesfay in regular clothes stood by a treeView image in fullscreen

She was thrilled to have been invited to compete at the front of RideLondon with fellow elite athletes on 26 May. But she is concerned that because of the extra difficulties she is facing in her life as an asylum seeker, she cannot compete on a level playing field with the other cyclists.

“I am hungry a lot of the time and I get hunger headaches,” she said. Because of the Home Office’s maximisation policy whereby asylum seekers who do not know one another have to share rooms, she is sleeping in a room with two other women.

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Kimberley Coats, the chief executive of Team Africa Rising, which supports athletes such as Tesfay, said: “We have to work within the parameters of the UK asylum system. I knew Trhas from when she was winning races on the African continent. But war has scattered a lot of young people like her. We’re trying to set up for her to train on a virtual trainer.”

The asylum seeker charity West London Welcome has also provided her with support. The company’s director, Joanne MacInnes, said: “Trhas is an inspiring and incredibly determined young person fighting against the odds to keep her career on track while navigating the hostile environment that asylum-seeking people face.

“Unlike her elite athlete colleagues, she has to share a tiny Home Office hotel room and suffer airline-style meals lacking nutrition. Banned from working and surviving on only £8.86 a week, she can’t even buy the food and supplements she needs. Without our community at West London Welcome and Team Africa Rising to support her, her career dreams would still be on hold.”

“Girls are not encouraged to ride bicycles in Ethiopia, but I have a rebellious spirit and that made me determined to continue with cycling in my country,” said Trhas. “My family are supporting me and so are the people from my area. I am determined to succeed and reach my ultimate dream of competing in the Tour de France.”

Source: theguardian.com