A group of NGOs and football organisations werelaunching a new European initiative to mark the UN World Refugee Day on the 20th of June.
The European Football Refugee Day celebrates the power of football to overcome the exclusion of refugees and asylum seekers. It also highlights the contribution of refugees to the game. Over the week-end partners in seven European countries, linked to the Sport Inclusion Network (SPIN) project, are organising multi-cultural football tournaments and public events with refugees. The events will raise awareness about refugees and the continued plight of millions of people throughout the world forced to flee their homes and seek refuge and protection.
The Football Refugee Day enjoys the backing of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. In support of the Football Refugee Day initiative the Portuguese stated:
“Sport is an amazing way to break down barriers and build bridges between communities. It gives young people a sense of self worth and focus and lets them set aside cultural differences in a constructive- non violent way.”
Grass-Roots Actions in Hungary and Austria
To celebrate the World Refugee Day on the 20th of June the Hungarian FARE partner Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights Organisation organises an event inside the biggest refugee camp in Hungary at Bicske, some 35 km from Budapest. Following a debate with representatives of UNHCR, the Immigration Office, the Bicske Refugee camp and African human- rights activists’, football matches will be played. The football teams in action are from the Debrecen and Bicske refugee camp as well as African Stars FC. Refugees will engage in cultural performances to display their rich culture.
Further west in Austria, FairPlay-VIDC invites young asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors for a seven-a-side-tournament in Vienna. Eight teams were selected from a range of NGOs working with refugees. The Football Refugee Day event is part of the popular festival of Austrian Forum Asylum taking place on the 18th of June in the Vienna Augarten. The award ceremony for the teams will be integrated into the evening programme of the festival.
Tournaments in Germany and Italy
In the region of Saxony-Anhalt in Eastern Germany, Camino is organising an international football tournament for 14 teams. Hosted by the club SV Fortuna Halberstadt, refugee’ teams and local amateur teams will play side by side. The tournament in Halberstadt will be kicked-off on 18th of June with a political speech about the UN World Refugee Day. Various side attractions, including a barbecue will be provided for the participants, their families, friends and supporters. In the evening music bands will perform at the social cultural center Zora.
In Italy the sport for all association UISP came together with the team Liberi Nantes to stage an event called “Free to Play”. Liberi Nantes is a football team composed of refugees and asylum seekers that plays their league matches at the “25 Aprile” ground in Rome. The Liberi Nantes was honoured by UNHCR for its inclusive sport activities. In addition to football rugby will be played. A picture exhibition on refugees, concerts and dances as well as traditional food will be offered aiming at involving ordinary people, living in the district where Liberi Nantes trains daily.
Football Association of Ireland takes responsibility
In the Irish capital Dublin the UNHCR Office in Ireland and SARI are organising the second annual Fair Play Football Cup to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention Relating to Refugees. The event is organised in conjunction with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), who is a partner in the European SPIN project. The Fair Play Cup features teams drawn from refugee and community groups, media and Government agencies such as the Irish Department of Justice. A women’s tournament will feature teams from asylum reception centres and female ethnic liaison guards.
In a statement SARI announced that:
“Refugees and displaced people around the world are in a league of their own when it comes to the challenges they face. Despite refugees’ often dire circumstances in very challenging environments, UNHCR & SARI have seen how sport can play a key role in helping to build tolerance, understanding and respect among different communities, setting aside cultural differences and giving young people a sense of self worth.”
In Mid-west of Ireland the Clare Intercultural Network will mark the Refugee Day with two exhibition football matches - one male and one female. The highlight of the day will be a speech delivered by the Mayor of County Clare.
Also in the Mid-west of Ireland in the third biggest city Limerick, Doras Luimni, an NGO that works with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in conjunction with the FAI, will deliver a futsal event on the 20th of June. The matches will take place at Galvone industrial estate, which is made up of migrants from around the world, including many asylum seekers and refugees. The Futsal tournament will feature a match between a Doras refugee team and a Midwest interfaith network team, which will include players from the Catholic, Anglican, Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Jewish faiths.
The SPIN partner Liikkukaa ry from Finland organised on 20th June a Gala-evening at the Sportsacademy in Helsinki. The event is linked to a large tournament organised earlier on. The Portuguese Players Union announced to hold a special event in Lisbon during the FARE Action Week.
United for Inclusion Poster
To promote the Football Refugee Day, a campaign poster carrying the slogan United for Inclusion has been distributed. The poster is showing the celebrations of the African Stars FC from Budapest winning the Mondiali Antirazzisti, the anti-racist World Cup. The team is made up of mainly asylum seekers and refugees from West Africa and Asia.
The Refugee Day activities across Europe take place in the framework of the project Sport Inclusion Network (SPIN) – Involving migrants in mainstream sport institutions. SPIN is funded by the Sport Unit of the European Commission and brings together NGOs and football organisations from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Hungary, Finland and Austria. Lead agency of the project, which kicked off in March 2011, is the Austrian FARE partner FairPlay-VIDC in Vienna.
Examples of professional footballers who have fled persecution include the DR Congo International Lomana LuaLua, the former Arsenal star Christopher Wreh and the current Austrian footballer of the Year and Austrian International, Zlatko Junuzovic, who fled at the age of 5 with his family from war-torn Bosnia.