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European clubs welcoming refugees through football

Copyrights: Welcome Through Football

European clubs welcoming refugees through football

The Welcome Through Football programme works with refugee youth to improve active citizenship, reduce social exclusion and promote the social autonomy of young migrants and refugees in their new countries

Sport brings people together. The power of sport is harnessed daily to bridge divides and increasingly, as a tool for development, peace, diversity and inclusion. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Of these, approximately 30-34 million (around 40%) are below the age of 18. 

Over the past decade, there has been sustained migration to Europe and while some of those landing on European shores are able to integrate, the vast majority remain in limbo in detention centres and refugee camps.

Against this background, the European Football for Development Network (EFDN) has formulated and is implementing Welcome Through Football, a programme involving refugees through football in several countries on the continent. The main focus is to improve active citizenship, reduce social exclusion and promote the social autonomy of young migrants and refugees in their new countries. EFDN is collaborating with Ukraine’s Shakhtar Social; Portugal’s Fundação Benfica; Netherlands’ Naoberschap United (FC Emmen); Germany’s Werder Bremen; English sides Sheffield United Community Foundation and Everton FC’s Everton in the Community; and Cyprus’ Apollon Limassol in implementing the project.

“I was amazed by what we achieved in just twelve weeks with those kids in the refugee programme. Some clubs found players for their football and youth academies. KAA Gent was building a football pitch in the community with all the refugees and immigrants to play on together. In one and a half years, I hope for everyone that we can achieve some wonderful results,” posits project coordinator Martyn Rijkhoff. 

Welcome Through Football’s methodology fosters the social inclusion and employability of young, newly arrived immigrants and refugees. Clubs seek project participants from refugee camps, immigrant centres and local organisations working with displaced people in their communities and cities. The first phase of the project involves discussions about various aspects of football and life, training, physical activity and a feedback session after two-hour trainings held twice weekly. Clubs can adapt these elements to their specific scenarios for maximum effect. 

“It is recommended to have a psychologist join some of the initial training sessions. It is also important to have a coach and/or assistant with native language skills to bridge the language barrier,” says Rijkhoff.

The second stage of the project is socialisation in football. During phase two, personal skill development is key with confidence and self-esteem building being the most prominent themes. Clubs work with participants to enhance communication and language skills, and basic activity planning, organisation and time-management. Other activities during this phase include volunteering opportunities in other community programmes and local football festivals. It is at this stage that clubs can also offer participants playing and talent identification pathways into local grassroots teams. Internships, additional communication and language skills, integration into the labour market and life skills are envisioned during the third phase within the clubs, in partnership with partner organisations and local businesses.

In 2019, Apollon Limassol collaborated with St John’s Foundation, which has been supporting refugees arriving in Cyprus. KAA Gent’s programme was delivered next to their stadium that neighbours one of the poorest quarters in the city with a high concentration of refugees, homeless people and former inmates. FC Emmen collaborated with a refugee centre in their neighbourhood, while Everton worked with a local charity that offers accommodation and support to young refugees and asylum seekers. Werder Bremen collaborated with Refugio Bremen. Clubs target 15-20 participants for each cycle as the second phase begins this month

“The clubs asked that we do this programme long-term in order to be more successful. We will test the three-step methodology twice. The third integration into the labour market and internship step only starts in August 2020 so the clubs have ample time to cooperate and find local businesses and to create programmes. We are very excited to continue with this project,” remarks project coordinator Rijkhoff.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


Article type



European Football Development Network


Monday, September 21, 2020 - 18:15

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