RUNNING IN SOLIDARITY: L-r: Graham Clifford, Fermoy, founder of the Cork Sanctuary Runners initiative which enables Irish people run with those in Direct Provision, pictured with Aodhan Clifford (7), Deborah Onaif (Nigeria), Aoife (9) and Molly (12) set to cross the finish line at the Cork marathon on Sunday. Deborah, from Nigeria, is currently in the Kinsale Road Direct Provision Centre in Cork. (Clare Keogh)

Dressed in their blue and yellow tops 200 Sanctuary runners took part in Sunday’s Cork Marathon in a first-of-its kind initiative.

The volunteer-led endeavour was conceived by Graham Clifford, a writer and broadcaster originally from Glenbeigh in Co Kerry but who now lives in Fermoy and included over 20 runners from North Cork.

The Cork Sanctuary Runners came together to enable Irish people run alongside, and in solidarity with, those living in Cork’s five Direct Provision centres.

“We had runners from 40 countries making it the most multi-cultural team to have ever entered a sporting event in Ireland. And proudly included amongst them were runners from Fermoy and Ballyhooly who injected positivity, generosity, and laughter into what was a hugely successful day,” explained Clifford.

In recent months the Sanctuary Runners held multiple training sessions each week including one in St Colmans’ pitch in Fermoy and were partly funded by the Tomar Trust and Cork City Council.

Sanctuary Runners from Fermoy, l-r: Kelly Moller, Fiona Sjaberg, Eilish Hayden and Sarah Dewhurst.

“This initiative enabled Irish people to get to chat with asylum seekers normally found behind the gates of Direct Provision centres. Irish mothers chatting with Zimbabwean mothers, Irish kids playing hide and seek with kids from Nigeria and Irish men discussing football with guys from Palestine and Libya. We wanted to bring some sense of normality to a system so artificial and unseen, to open the curtains and allow the sun shine in,” said Clifford who has covered migration issues for RTÉ Radio 1, the Irish Independent and the Irish Times.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Tony Fitzgerald, attended a Sanctuary Runners’ post-race celebration on Princes Street in the City complete with live music and foods from around the world, and he presented medals to the runners – many of whom participated in mixed relay teams.

And with a successful Cork Marathon behind them the Sanctuary Runners are now hoping to go national.

“This concept is simple but it works. We want to see Sanctuary Runners in Galway, Limerick, Dublin and elsewhere. We want to see more people reaching out the hand of friendship and running in solidarity.”