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Maximizing sport as a refugee integration tool

Maximizing sport as a refugee integration tool

Deng is unsure about his future at Kakuma refugee camp. But he hopes football can help him ease his path a little bit.

It’s a hot Sunday morning with clear skies at Kakuma refugee camp. A rough road engulfed in dust doesn’t prevent the loud laughter of inhabitants and cries of children in the background, as Deng isolates himself from the crowd which is oblivious of dangers of COVID-19.

Deng is a refugee from South Sudan who fled his native country after conflict broke out between rebel forces and UN backed government forces, following the expiry of a peace deal. He lost touch with his family along the way, not sure whether they are alive.

Deng constantly wonders what will happen to his dream of representing his country in the FIFA World Cup in the future. He makes up his mind to quit football, as there is no hope of honing his football skills. Or that’s what he thinks.

A representative from a relief organization notices his solitude and decides to engage him to see what might be bothering him. After exchanging brief pleasantries, Deng shares his predicament with the aid worker and the latter finds it wise to enlighten Deng on life’s possibilities.

Deng represents one of the 79 million forcibly displaced people worldwide according to the United Nations High Commissioner for The Refugee (UNHCR) as a result of war, persecution among other causes.

 The UNHCR defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Furthermore, the Refugees Act no 13 of the Laws of Kenya defines a refugee as one who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or  (b) not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for any of the aforesaid reasons is unwilling, to return to it.

Since World War II, refugees have experienced challenges ranging from access to quality education, gaining employment skills, sexual harassment and human trafficking. Due to the continued the rise of armed conflict across the world coupled with terrorism, countries hosting refugees decry the impact that influx of displaced persons has had on its existing resources.

In March 2021, the Kenyan government through the Ministry of Interior announced it would close down its two main camps – Kakuma and Dadaab – citing security concerns. Yet, in the midst of a cloud of uncertainties surrounding the future of refugees in their host countries, sport emerges as a voice of reason, magnifying a field of humanity.

During the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, an unprecedented resolution saw the creation of a refugee team to participate in Rio 2016 Games, something that Kenyan marathon legend, Tegla Loroupe, continues to spearhead through her foundation, the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, by organizing sporting activities to not only increase participation of refugees in sport, but also inspire peace within and outside Kenya. Similarly, since the 2015 refugee crises, the UEFA Foundation for Children has continued to develop working cooperation with international and local aid agencies across the globe to increase access to sport and social inclusion in host communities, a rather different “tactical approach that can influence the game” to world peace.

Sport in itself is an empty shell, something that the German International Development agency (GIZ) has demonstrated through its Sport for Development in Africa (S4DA) project. In the Eastern Africa region, S4DA works with local and government partners to implement projects beyond the scope of talent development into equipping displaced persons with employability skills through sports themed vocational training courses.

Though such case studies, the aid worker is at a better position to advise Deng that while he is displaced, sport offers a perfect asylum to gain life skills that will improve his life.

Perhaps in the near future, the FIFA world cup can adopt a resolution to create a refugee team as part of its social legacy program.


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Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - 12:29

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