The Fare Refugees and Football database, an online tool to help refugees and activists find out about teams and activities near where they live, provides information about 80 projects in 20 countries.
When launched in October 2015, the database listed the projects of 40 clubs, amateur teams, human rights and grassroots organisations carried out across Europe to welcome and help integrate refugees and asylum seekers. The number has since doubled.
Among the most recent initiatives is the Swedish club Askims IK Welcome Cup, which brought together Swedish youth and unaccompanied minor refugees to play football and exchange experiences.
Solidarity from the grassroots movement
During the Fare Football People action weeks groups across Europe worked with refugees in some of the countries most challenged by the refugee crisis to building bridges between cultures and ensure everyone has a chance to be involved in football.
Fan choreographies in Germany, exhibitions and other tournaments in Moldova, Austria, Slovakia, football tournaments in the Czech Republic and Russia, and a national level conference in Italy encouraged the involvement of migrants and refugees in football.
In Turin, Italy, Fare member ASD Balon Mundial held a conference on topics including the exclusion of asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants from participation in sport, and how football can serve as a means for empowerment. The initiative was organsied following their work in refugee camps in Calais (France) and border cities, such as Ventimiglia (Italy).
Building on the work started during the Football People weeks, Fare is looking to partner-up with grassroots initiatives to support their work with refugees, while also exploring high-level collaborations with governments, leading clubs and leagues around the matter.
In addition, a good practice guide on ‘how to’ work with refugees will be launched before summer.
Concerns around the integration of refugees and asylum seekers have grown in recent months with the rise of far-right groups, anti-migrant and refugee demonstrations and the introduction of laws in several European Union members states to reduce inward flow of newcomers.
As asylum regulations tighten, a growing number of groups and football authorities a have recognised the value of sport as a tool to facilitate and enhance the process of integration of migrants, combat exclusion and marginalisation.
Reflecting on the complexity and scale of Europe’s migrant crisis on the International Migrants’ Day, observed on 18 December, the European Commission released a statement reading: “In the last months, the EU has mobilised efforts to respond to the significant increase in migrant and refugee flows to Europe.
“We are also looking beyond the current crisis. We need to build a strong and coherent migration policy that also (…) allows migrants to make a positive contribution to our economy and society.
“We reiterate our commitment to work to raise awareness of migrants’ positive social and economic contributions to society as well as to do all that is required to improve the situation for the migrants.”
Football bodies campaign for refugees
At national level football governing bodies have also taken action to address the problem. The German FA paved the way when in March 2015 they launched the ‘Cross Out Prejudice’ campaign, making available 1.2 million euros to support inclusion projects for refugees.
In October, the Portuguese professional football came together to highlight the issue. Awareness raising activities at matches, talks at schools and the donation of sporting material, books and clothes to refugee aid organisations were among the activities of a weeklong campaign.
Support from outside Europe
More recently, the Football Federation Australia (FFA) stressed their commitment to help with Europe’s humanitarian crisis through donations from the Australian public. Besides the international campaign, FFA also announced a domestic campaign that will provide assistance to the 12,000 Syrian refugees Australia will receive in 2016.
Football drop-in centres and coaching clinics are at the core of the project.
In Brazil professional clubs, such as Santos FC, have invited Syrian refugees to attend matches, while grassroots initiatives brought together some of the over 3,200 refugees and asylum seekers that live in São Paulo to play the second edition of the Refugees World Cup. In addition, the city’s secretary of human rights organised the third festival of human rights in which homeless and refugees played football together to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the two groups.
In a similar move, the United Nations (UN) agency for refugees (ACNUR) and Women (UN Women) launched a football project in Rio de Janeiro, which looks to be a space for discussion for refugees in Brazil through football sessions.