The World Refugee Day (WRD) is observed every year on the 20th June to honour the courage, strength and determination of millions of refugees worldwide that have been forced to flee their homes due to war or persecution. The event helps to give a voice to their stories and raise awareness of their situation.
This year, across the world football initiatives will celebrate World Refugee Day, highlighting the importance of sport in overcoming barriers, bringing people together and promoting peace.
Established by the United Nations in December 2000, World Refugee Day has been celebrated since 20th June 2001, a date that also marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 UN Convention regarding the status of refugees.
The latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that in 2011, 15 million people lived in refugee camps around the world. Women and girls represented 48% of all refugees globally and the developing countries hosted 8.4 million refugees (80% of the global refugee population).
This is a problem that is increasingly getting worse and in 2013, just the Syrian conflict alone has forced more than a million people to leave the country as refugees, half of them children.
The role of sport
Sports programmes can be important for refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in regards to the positive contribute towards mental well-being, social inclusion and education that sport can make.
Former refugee and NBA Chicago Bulls player, Luol Deng highlighted in a recent interview with UNHCR the way that sport had played a crucial role in his integration after his family fled from Sudan to Egypt and then later to England.
“It was hard for me to communicate with people and it was hard for me to reach out – a different culture, a different language – it was just really hard to make friends. But one thing I noticed was that whenever we played football, people wanted to pick me to be on their team.
“It didn't matter if I spoke the language or not, they wanted to win and so they would pick me. And when we won, we would celebrate together. That's really what sports did for me; it helped me make friends.”
As FARE looks ahead to the World Refugee Day, we are reminded that sporting initiatives are also a tool to promote equality and empowerment. Some of the activities taking place to help achieve this across the world include:
The Companion House, community base organisation founded by survivors of torture and trauma who have sought refuge in Australia, hosted on its annual World Refugee Day football tournament on Sunday 16th June. The event featured teams from the Liberia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Karen, Mon, and Hazara communities, as well as the Red Cross and Football United Football United.
In Tingalpa, Queensland, WRD was celebrated with a football tournament, featuring 48 teams from refugee communities. The event took place during the weekend of 8th and 9th June. A World Refugee Day Community Festival will also be held on Sunday 23rd June. This event will aim to showcase the cultural diversity in Australia, raising awareness about refugee matters.
The city of Bradford is organising a ‘Refugee Communities Football Tournament’ that will consist of 5 a side football matches for young people and adults, on Saturday 22nd June.
In Bristol a 7 a side community cup, open to refugee groups and local football sides, will also take place on Saturday.
To celebrate and raise funds for World Refugee Day, former players, Tony Adams and Fabrice Muamba, actor Tom Watt and athlete, Mo Farah have organised a celebrity football match at Underhill stadium, London, on Sunday 23rd June.
In Plymouth , activities in support of World Refugee Day kicked off on Saturday 15th June with the ‘Hope Football Festival’ which included among, other things, a mini-Olympics sports competition.
Sheffield based project, Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) will hold a conference on 20th June to celebrate the WRD. The conference will also be used to present the findings and recommendations of an academic study conducted by FURD on the role of football in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.
On Sunday 16th June, the NGO, SARI organised their 4th annual World Refugee Day Fair Play Cup, in Dublin. The family-friendly event featured refugee teams from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, teams from the Direct Provision Centres of Mosney, Athlone, Newbridge, Hatch Hall, Clondalkin Towers and Balseskin, alongside teams the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and SARI.
On Tuesday 11th June UISP (L'Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti) officially launched the 17th Mondiali Antirazzisti and announced that during the event, which will take place in Castelfranco Emilia from 3rd – 7th July, the football team Liberi Nantes A.S.D. will be awarded the Invisibles Cup, a trophy that is given to teams whose rights have been denied.
The Liberi Nantes is a team that was created in 2007 to promote and spread the right to sport amongst the refugees and asylum seekers in Italy. Although the Italian Federation allows them to play in official tournaments, the team is not yet officially recognised and therefore cannot win titles.
The refugee communities in Wellington will celebrate WRD with a football tournament on Sunday 23rd June. International food and cultural performances will also be part of the community event.
In Chicago WRD will be celebrated through a different range of activities that will take place on Saturday 22nd June at the Foster Beach Soccer Fields, including a football tournament.
On Saturday 15th June, Cymru Refugee Football League hosted the final game of the season played between the Kurdish FC Vs Tiger Bay Somali team in celebration of refugee week. On the day of the match the three officials were also refugees, who have also qualified to referee the Cardiff District League.
On Saturday 22nd June, the Zimbabwe Voluntary Association will be hosting Football Tournament. The event will include teams playing from Bristol, Swansea and the south of England in Wales.