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Helping newly-arrived refugees avoid social isolation through football

Helping newly-arrived refugees avoid social isolation through football

Football United creates chances for thousands of children and youth through the magic of football, with the goal of supporting refugees and newly arrived youth and their families in their transition into Australian society.

Since 2006, Football United has evolved to become a programme that combines a number of effective mechanisms for engaging and re-engaging young people with refugee experiences, or from other disadvantaged circumstances, into their communities. The power of football is used to foster their educational engagement and promote cross-cultural harmony. Since its inception, Football United has delivered positive outcomes for more than 6000 participants in three states in Australia and in Myanmar.

Australia accepts more than 13,000 refugee and humanitarian immigrants annually, and youth account for a large overall percentage of these migrants. Figures released by the Australian government show Sydney has previously accommodated 60 per cent of the resettlement programme for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, with 75 per cent of them settled in areas where Football United has run its football-based social change programme since 2007.

There is evidence that refugee families are highly vulnerable to social isolation in their countries of resettlement. Difficulties faced include the need to learn new languages, negotiate differing cultural and societal values and address past emotional trauma. Football United’s research and experience indicate clearly that people from multicultural, non-English speaking, indigenous and/or low socioeconomic status backgrounds also have far lower rates of involvement in traditional community sports systems. This is particularly true for newly-arrived humanitarian immigrant families and youth for whom settlement issues such as finding employment, affordable housing and settling their children in schools are seen as more pressing issues than engaging in community sport.

Football United addresses these issues through basing its foundations on the premise that structural variables and social processes act at multiple levels to impact on health and social behaviour. Football United programmes offer children and youth the opportunity to engage in the sport they love, with opportunities to progress to roles of leadership and engagement that the organised football system cannot offer. Football United works in partnership with community service providers and educational institutions to also facilitate community interactions that engage children, youth and adults.

Fundamentally, Football United believes that when appropriately implemented, football is an ideal conduit to assist with settlement of youth enabling a range of other support services to be delivered in conjunction, including health promotion that leads community and individual empowerment.

Football United’s nine years of action and research clearly indicate a significantly positive impact on participating young people’s sense of self, appreciation for and engagement with peers from diverse backgrounds. Learning from interviews found unanticipated connections between participating in Football United and learning English, positive engagement with school, and building self-confidence.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


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Dr. Anne Bunde-Birouste, Assmaah Helal and Stuart Meney


Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 23:00