Celestine “Boban” Olisa fled Nigeria and Boko Haram to find a happy life and a promising future in Croatia, reports UNHCR on June 15, 2017.
While growing up in Nigeria, all Celestine Olisa wanted to do was play football. And when he didn’t play football, he watched it. He even earned himself the nickname “Boban” after his hero Zvonimir Boban from a land far far away. When he got to his teens, he became a junior player for the Nigerian Premier League. In his early twenties, he was signed with a club in Montenegro and off to Europe he went.
He later returned to Nigeria because he felt lonely in Europe. But after returning, he realized that the situation and religious conflict in Nigeria worsened and that country was unsafe. He himself was stabbed by an unknown attacker, a member of Boko Haram, and subsequently hospitalized.
After that, he left Nigeria once again in 2011. This time, however, he did not leave as an up-and-coming young football star to whom Europe promised all the opportunity it usually bestows on its golden calves. He was now a refugee, smuggled through the African continent and across the Mediterranean. He ended up in an open refugee camp in Slovenia where he readily accepted the authorities’ decision to send him to Croatia.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to run away any more, I’ve had enough.’ I had a good feeling about Croatia. Croatia is football.”
His asylum application was approved a few years ago, he is now happily married to a Croatian wife, coaches children at NK Utrina and adults at NK Zagreb 041 and hopes to soon become a certified trainer. He is already a great example of successful integration and yet another story on how refugees can be happy and productive members of society when not vilified, feared and marginalized.
Read the full story of Celestine’s journey as reported by UNHCR here.