Australia

Champion athlete holds on to Games dream despite uncertainty over asylum seeker status

Makda Haji is racing against the clock in her quest for selection in next year's Commonwealth Games - and to get some clarification on whether she is able to call Australia home.

Nowdays, an athletics track is the only place Makda Haji really feels at home.  

The 29-year old has scored podium finishes in marathons worldwide – including Venice, Paris Beijing and won Sydney’s in 2015.

Her best time places her in Australia's top bracket of distance athletes.

But, as an asylum seeker from Ethiopia, she's ineligible to compete for Australia -  but her dream remains very much alive. She spoke to SBS World News with the help of a translator.

“I need good training, proper training to achieve my goal by representing Australia - hopefully at the Commonwealth Games,” Ms Haji said.

Makda's coach, Frances Lipscome says if desire, comitment and effort are any indication – anything is possible.

“For Makda running is everything - if she can't run she can't function so I guess that's how desperate you are and when you love something that much you want to do well and you want to be the best you can be,” she said. 

Incredibly, Makda lives between shared accommodation in a housing commission block and a Red Cross shelter.

Makda Haji
A young Makda Haji makes her way across the finish line.
Supplied

After rent payments, she has around $100 dollars a week left over to cover food, transport to-and-from training and other essentials. But her coach says a lack of stability is the most serious problem.

“I think her biggest disadvantage is a secure environment to live in she certainly has the backing of the community but she has no permanent home,” Ms Lipscome said. 

Running gave Makda Haji a ticket out of troubled Ethiopia, where the Oromo ethnic minority continues to endure persecution.

Her father was killed when she was a small girl and her siblings remain in the country’s turbulent south - providing an inspiration to fulfill her talent and dream 

Melbourne-based African community leader Dr Berhan Ahmed says he understands Makda's predicament and is helping with an application for permanent residency.

“She has got all of what it needs to stand for Australia the only now is the paperwork that need to be addressed and we are working through the right processes to get to that point,” Dr Ahmed said.

He works closely with disconnected youth in Melbourne's African communities, and says there's considerable upside to having an African Australian role model on the track in the 2018 Games. 

“Makda would be a torch of hope for those young boys or girls that are desperately looking for something to look in life,” he said.  

It may or may not help her cause, but Makda is hoping and training for a podium finish in Melbourne's October marathon.